Tulsa, Okla. mourns three of its residents after a shooting spree on Good Friday that also left two injured.
Early on the morning of April 6, a white pickup with a low-hanging tailpipe drove into a predominately Black neighborhood in North Tulsa, Okla. The drivers stopped pedestrians to ask for directions. Four men and a woman were stopped, and when they turned to walk away, were gunned down.
The victims seem to have been chosen at random. News reports have called the shootings a racially-motivated rampage.
Unlike the killing of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed Black teen in Florida, there have been no protests. Within hours of the shootings, Tulsa faith leaders and law enforcement acted quickly.
Faith leaders send message of calm and caution
North Peoria Church of Christ minister Warren Blakney called a meeting on Friday evening of 20 north Tulsa lay and clergy church leaders.
Leaders left this meeting to bring a message to their congregations: stay calm, be cautious, and allow the police time to do their jobs. Rev. Marlin Lavanhar, senior minister at All Souls Unitarian Church, said they also made a contingency plan to reach out to authorities beyond Tulsa in the event the police did not take the crimes seriously enough.
From USA Today (AP photo): From left, Renae Shoates, Margaret Love, Rev. Marlin Lavanhar of All Souls Unitarian Church and Dr. Warren Blakney participate in a remembrance of the shooting victims in Tulsa, Okla.
“I felt that had we not addressed it and gotten on top of it quickly, the situation could have gotten out of control and it would have become a very difficult time for the city of Tulsa,” Blakney told the Tulsa World. Blakney also serves as president of the local NAACP chapter.
These words of advice came at a time of fear in the community coupled with tension between black males in north Tulsa and the police. “[A] distrust developed from years of seeing ‘so many issues of racial-profiling’ and the recent police corruption scandal,” wrote the Tulsa World.
“I think what helped the most was the joint effort between the Tulsa police, the north Tulsa ministers and the NAACP,” said retired police officer Marvin Blades. “You had some fringe groups talking about retaliation but calmer voices prevailed, saying we had no idea who did this, and those public statements may have kept those fringe elements from acting adversely.”
Police and city response
Like the city’s faith leaders, law enforcement did not delay. By Saturday afternoon, Tulsa police called a news conference to announce the formation of a task force, “Operation Random Shooter,” that would dedicate 30 officers to finding the people responsible. They also called on the community to report tips to the Crime Stoppers line.
The public response was tremendous and solely responsible for the capture of two men, 19-year-old Jacob England and 32-year-old Alvin Watts. On Sunday morning, they were booked on three counts of first-degree murder, two counts of shooting with the intent to kill and one count of possession of a firearm in the commission of a felony. On Monday, both men confessed and bond was set at $9.16 million each.
"In my 23 years of law enforcement, I don't think I've ever seen any crime as heinous as this," said Tulsa Police Maj. Walter Evans, who led the task force. "But at the same time, I don't think I've seen such an outpouring of support and cooperation from the community."
Mayor Dewey Bartlett said this is an opportunity to “now unite Tulsans like never before.” In the next 30 days, Bartlett said a public safety task force will be assembled.
“I’ve never been so proud to represent this city,” Bartlett said.
Tomorrow: Looking back at Tulsa's history and honoring the victims and families