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Tulsa’s Black community still waiting for ‘atonement, repair and respect’

Tiffany Crutcher, a native of Tulsa and a civil rights activist whose twin brother, Terence Crutcher, was shot and killed by a police officer in 2016, joins Yamiche Alcindor to discuss the Tulsa massacre, how it still affects the local Black community, and what reparations the community desires.

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  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    You can watch the full documentary, "Tulsa: The Fire and the Forgotten," tonight on your PBS station.

    And joining me now to talk about the legacy of the Tulsa race massacre is Tiffany Crutcher. She is a native of Tulsa and a civil rights activist who is working with the Black Wall Street Legacy Festival. Her twin brother, Terence Crutcher, was shot and killed by a police officer in 2016.

    Thank you so much, Tiffany, for being here.

    What has been the lasting impact, do you think, of the Tulsa Race Massacre, when you think about the harm done 100 years ago and the consequences that we still were live with today?

  • Tiffany Crutcher:

    Well, thank you so much for having me, Yamiche.

    Man, as I sit here on the actual centennial, the 100-year anniversary of the worst racial terror attack on U.S. soil, I can't help but reflect back on and just think about my great-grandmother, and the fear and the terror and the pain and the trauma that she had to endure fleeing for her life and running for her life.

    And fast-forward to 100 years later, I can't help but think about today, my brother, Terence Crutcher, who was killed by the same police department.

    So, today has been somber. It has been a bittersweet moment. We just finished paying homage to all of the lives that were lost, over 300 that we know of. We believe that there were more. The fact that we have to do this and commemorate, that's the bitter part.

    But the sweet part was being there with two of our last known living survivors, Viola Fletcher and Hughes Van Ellis, who is a World War II veteran. Just having them there and knowing that they survived was a really special moment.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    And you brought up your brother, who was unarmed and shot less than three miles away from Black Wall Street, which, of course, was destroyed during the massacre.

    Talk a bit more about the connection you see between Terence's death and the violence Black people experienced during this massacre and other massacres that we don't talk about.

  • Tiffany Crutcher:

    Absolutely.

    And I can't really talk about the massacre the massacres and the experience that Terence had to do it without even talking about what happened on January 6 with the insurrection. I mean, it brought back memories. It brought back the stories of the mobs of white rioters that fled into a Black prosperous community and leveled it to the ground, shot innocent men with their hands in the air, doctors and lawyers, didn't render first aid.

    And then, in Terence's case, I see that video of police officers fleeing towards Terence, a mob of white police officers, and Terence wasn't doing anything, helicopters looming, saying that he looked like a bad dude.

    The parallels are so stark. And then I think about January 6 and the mob that stormed the nation's Capitol. Nothing has changed. The residual effects of the Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921 still reverberates through history and through my family's traumatic history today, on the 100-year anniversary.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    And you talk about January 6.

    There are recent things, of course, the massacre being 100 years ago, but there's also highway construction, there's gentrification that has forced Black people in Tulsa into other areas, something that we have seen all over the country.

    Make that connection to not just the massacre, but what happened even after that.

  • Tiffany Crutcher:

    We were known as Black Wall Street. We had economic enterprise.

    And we were robbed of our generational wealth. But 100 years later, the railroad tracks that divided South Tulsa, the white side of town from North Tulsa, those tracks still symbolize the same thing, the racial divide, except we have nothing, we own nothing in this historic community.

    Gentrification is running rampant. All you see are high-rises and condos and restaurants. But none of it is owned by us. And we believe that it's shameful. And our kids' life expectancy is 11 years less on the Black side of town than a kid's life expectancy on the South Side of town. We live in food deserts.

    We have been left behind, simply because of the residual effects of the 1921 race massacre.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    What do you think needs to be done for the descendants of the victims, and the community more widely, when you think of the massacre? And is there a way to get enough people to decide on what reparations might look like?

  • Tiffany Crutcher:

    I must note, we have three last known living survivors that are still here at the age of 107, 106 and 100 years old, who recently testified at the nation's Capitol.

    And I yield to them. And what they said we needed was justice, reparations, atonement, repair, respect. And they have yet to receive that. And that trickles down into the descendants.

    We filed a lawsuit against the city of Tulsa, the county, the Tulsa Chamber of Commerce, and nothing has been done.

    But I will say this. At the ceremony that we held today, the general, the major of the Oklahoma National Guard was there. And he stated that they didn't do enough to stop what happened. And he gave an official apology to the survivors and to our community. And it was an emotional moment.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    And a new bill banning the teaching of some race concepts in Oklahoma schools was recently signed into law.

    What impact might that have on the ability of the — to really face the ongoing harm of the massacre and violence against Black people?

  • Tiffany Crutcher:

    We think the bill that was recently signed into law by Governor Stitt is simply shameful.

    We know, 100 years ago, there was a conspiracy of silence. My great-grandmother never talked about it. So many other folks, Mother Fletcher, they didn't want to talk about it, because they told them, if they did, they would be next, they would be lynched next.

    And it wasn't until I went off to college that I learned about it. And, again, we think that is shameful.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Well, thank you so much, Tiffany Crutcher, an activist in Tulsa whose brother was killed by the police.

    I really appreciate you joining us.

  • Tiffany Crutcher:

    Thank you so much, Yamiche, for having me.

  • Photos provided by:

    Tulsa Historical Society & Museum

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