Black Tulsans were reportedly breathing more easily late Sunday, after police charged a pair of white suspects with randomly murdering three black men in the African American community and shooting two more.
Those arrests have perhaps brought a measure of hope for justice to African-Americans nationwide.
Many, if not most, have been on edge since the grisly slaying of Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida, by George Zimmerman. The self-appointed neighborhood watch captain, claiming he killed the unarmed Martin “in self-defense,” has thus far managed to elude arrest, despite choirs of international outrage and mounting disbelief.
The Tulsa murder spree began early Friday morning, when the suspects, both men, (Jacob) Jake England, 19, and his housemate, Alvin Watts, 32, gunned down the five black men, all at random, within an eight-hour period.
In succession, the duo killed Danny Dannear, 49, Bobby Clark, 54 and William Allen, 31, all within a three-mile radius. They chose four different locations, all in black Tulsa, to essentially execute their victims.
Police have declined to identify the other two victims. On late Sunday, they were discharged from a Tulsa hospital. The duo, according to the survivors, asked the men for directions then calmly aimed, fired and gunned them down.
As black Tulsans held their breath, some 30 members of the FBI, Tulsa Sheriffs Office and the city’s Police Department merged forces in a task force dubbed “Operation Random Shooter.” In addition, police officers riding in 40 cruisers knocked on virtually every door in North Tulsa, the city’s predominately African American section, searching for leads and information to identify the assailants.
Task Force members, approximately 48 hours later, took both suspects into custody without incidence at a Tulsa residence. That residence, however, is not the location of the home they shared, according to police.
England allegedly decided to murder black men on Friday because his father, Carl England, was shot and killed on April 5, 2010, by a black man attempting to break into his girlfriend’s apartment. That man, Pennell Desmond Jefferson, was not sentenced to the death penalty. He is scheduled to be released from prison in October 2014.
Spokesmen for the Task Force and other law enforcement officials, for the most part, have not characterized the murders and shootings as hate crimes. Several officials have declined to respond to questions aimed at eliciting affirmative responses.
“We don’t have a motive at this time We are still asking questions and opefully that wil become clear in the coming days,” said Jason Willingham, a Tulsa Police Department spokesman.
A black Tulsa City Councilman, however, Jack Henderson, has shown no such reluctance. On late Sunday, in a comment for The Tulsa World, Henderson said, “Having been an NAACP president for seven years, I think that somebody who committed these crimes was very upset with black people. That person happened to be white. The people they happened to shoot and kill were black people. That fits the bill for me.”
To gauge the sentiments of leading African-Americans there, Blackamericaweb.com contacted two senior minsters serving noted congregations: the Revs. Anthony Scott and J. B. Patterson, of First and Timothy Baptist Churches, respectively.
“There is a sense of quiet calm in our community now,” said Rev. Scott. “We’re happy to see some attempts to bring justice for the victims and their families,” he added.
First Baptist was the only AfricanAmerican house of worship to survive the infamous white riots that destroyed Greenwood (known as the black Wall Street), believed to have been America’s most prosperous commerical district before 1921, the year it was decimated. Raging white mobs, believing that blacks would not own such a beautful edifice, left the church, built in 1899, intact.
Blacks lost almost all their wealth. Acquiring economic independence, largely through oil leases, at least 11 millionaires resided in Tulsa. Meanwhile, significant numbers of African-Americans were reportedly worth nearly as much as the millionaires, whom many believe were much more numerous than the eleven often cited by some historians.
After the black community was leveled, much of it by bombing–and burned to the ground–more than 10,000 blacks were left homeless, 300 were killed and another 800 plus were hospitalized. Whites suffered only 36 casualties. Some 6,000 were arrested.
“Most of our members, as many as 75 percent of them, had not heard that the suspects had been apprehended until we announced it after the service began,” Rev. Scott said. “There was a big gasp when the congregation heard our announcement,’ he said.
For Rev. Scott “and many other African-Americans, there is a sense that law enforcement officials are slowly coming around to saying that this is a hate crime.”
Rev. Patterson, in his comment, said, “our congregation wasn’t fearful (while the pair was still at large), because we had a sense of protection from the Lord.” But, he continued, “I’m not surprised, because they that knoweth not the Lord are subject to do anything.”
And, in a most perceptive aside, Rev. Patterson said, “there is a concern about other things that may be going on under our level of awareness.”
Rev. Scott, in his concluding comment said, “we have come together, the killings have done that for us. I’m afraid, though, that after all the speeches are delivered, we’ll go back to business as usual.”