Black Lives Matter protesters took President Trump to task for hosting a political rally in Tulsa, the site of the worst racial violence in U.S. history, on Juneteenth weekend. Black activists said the rally stoked racial tensions in the city.
In the district of Greenwood, black leaders rushed to cover up Black Wall Street memorials hours before a scheduled visit by Vice President Pence on Saturday. The memorials honor the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre. They also pay tribute to the Tulsa community of Greenwood, one of the richest black communities in the country before the 1921 massacre.
Activists said they did not want Pence to use the historic district for a political event.
“I just think his visit is an opportunity for a photo op,” said community activist and educator Kristi Williams. “We say, ‘Don’t come for a photo op when you have not come to sit down and talk with black leaders in the community.’ We are beyond symbolism.”
Others hung signs calling for reparations for the massacre at Greenwood, when white mobs killed more than 300 black people, burned homes and businesses, and left the 40 square blocks of the community smoldering.
Saturday’s protests come after weeks of anxiety and activism around Trump’s campaign event, which was initially scheduled to take place on Juneteenth, which celebrates the anniversary of the day that more than 250,000 enslaved black people in Texas received news of their freedom in 1865. After days of criticism, the administration postponed the event by a day.
But that concession did little to quell the anger over the event, coming after weeks of protests against racism, oppression and police brutality following the killing of George Floyd, an unarmed black man who died in Minneapolis as a white police officer knelt on his neck.
Pence arrived about 3:30 p.m. Saturday at the Dream Center in North Tulsa, where he met with a roundtable of black ministers. Pence told them he was there to listen after Floyd’s death, according to White House pool reports. “There is no excuse for what happened to George Floyd,” Pence told the ministers. “There is no excuse for the rioting and looting and violence that ensued.”
Near an entrance on Fourth Street, a person wearing a Juneteenth T-shirt shouted at a Trump supporter wearing a flag as a cape. Dirk Baker, a resident of Tulsa, said black residents were upset that Trump chose the Juneteenth weekend for the political rally.
Stephen Fuhri, a Trump supporter, responded that he was there to defend Tulsa from violence. “You destroyed Chicago,” Fuhri shouted. “We won’t let you destroy our neighborhoods.”
As tensions escalated, protesters shouted, “Black Lives Matter” in a megaphone.
A Trump supporter retorted, “All Lives Matter.”
Blocks away, outside the historic Vernon AME Church, black leaders called for Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum (R) to use his executive powers to stop Trump’s campaign rally. “We are trying to defuse a rising situation,” said Greg Robinson, a community organizer who last week announced a “nonpartisan” bid to run against Bynum. “We are asking the mayor to step in and delay this rally and call for people on all sides to show restraint.”
On Friday, the Oklahoma Supreme Court turned down an appeal of a lawsuit requesting an injunction against the rally.
Paul DeMuro, one of the lawyers who filed an injunction against Trump’s rally, said many people were nervous about Saturday’s events. “The only recourse for the case right now is prayer,” said DeMuro, who has practiced law in Tulsa for 23 years. “It’s not about the legal issue. It’s about a moral issue.”
DeMuro said he has received death threats since filing the case in Tulsa’s district court Tuesday. “There is direct linkage between the threats I’ve been receiving and the president’s hateful language,” DeMuro said.
Others have expressed frustration with the mixed messaging about Tulsa’s curfew. The mayor imposed — then rescinded — a curfew for Saturday night. Bynum said he rescinded the curfew after consultation with the Tulsa Police Department. “The area previously under curfew is now a security zone under federal law enforcement purview,” Bynum said in a statement. Tulsa’s police said in a statement that the curfew was rescinded after Bynum talked with Trump.
Oklahoma state Rep. Regina Goodwin (D) said a curfew was needed in Tulsa, as thousands poured in for Trump’s rally. “The mayor needs to be consistent,” Goodwin said. “He is the mayor of Tulsa, and we should not be left to govern ourselves.”
On Saturday, just blocks from Greenwood, crowds clashed at the intersection of Fourth and Boulder, when a group of protesters confronted Trump supporters near the entrance to the rally. A few dozen protesters carried a “Black Lives Matter” banner so long that it required three people to carry; it bore the words “Trump/Pence #Outnow.”
Trump supporters mostly lined up on the south side, and counterprotesters on the north. Police repeatedly cleared the streets as they edged toward one another, and traffic knotted up behind them. A handful of people gathered alongside the Trump supporters, punching their fists into the air and shouting, “No Justice! No peace.”
A man shouted, “Black babies matter” into their ears through a bullhorn.
Meanwhile, other protesters took their orange banner into the Boulder Avenue in downtown Tulsa, where they attempted to march down the street before local police guided them back to the sidewalk. A woman on a bullhorn, who said she was with the group refusefascism.org, chanted, “No Trump, no KKK, no fascist USA.”
A black Trump supporter standing nearby accused the woman on the bullhorn of saying, “Black lives don’t matter.”
She retorted, “Blacks for Trump is like Jews for Hitler.” The woman then shouted in her bullhorn for “Americans to take to the streets in a peaceful protest.”
Police disentangled the two groups. The demonstrators turned on their heels and took the orange banner and marched down Boulder Avenue, where lines of Trump supporters have camped out since Wednesday, snarling traffic.