Step Forward? Oklahoma Police Chief Apologizes For 1921 Attack on “Black Wall Street”
Tulsa, Oklahoma Police Chief Chuck Jordan apologized on Saturday for the Tulsa Police Department’s inaction during the 1921 race riot.
“I can not apologize for the actions, inaction and dereliction that those individual officers and their chief exhibited during that dark time,” said Jordan at John Hope Franklin Reconciliation Park. “But as your chief today, I can apologize for our police department. I am sorry and distressed that the Tulsa Police Department did not protect its citizens during those tragic days in 1921.”
Chief Jordan made his comments at an event held in the Greenwood District which was intended to spread cultural awareness of historical events as well as promote entrepreneurship.
In the 1921 riot, whites attacked blacks who were living in the Greenwood area, also known as Black Wall Street. The Tulsa police were not only indifferent, but they also took part in the destruction of the wealthiest black city in America, with officers helping to set fire to the property of blacks who had lived and thrived in that area.
As a result of white supremacist terrorism, an estimated 10,000 blacks were left homeless and 35 city blocks were burned to the ground. Blacks who had been injured during the assault could not even seek medical care because the black hospital was one of the buildings torched by white mobs.
Black Wall Street had its own theaters, grocery stores, independent newspapers, and professional black class before being demolished by an irate white mob angry over a black teen’s alleged assault of a white female. Even white attorneys in the area didn’t buy the story that the black teen had attacked the white teenager, one reportedly having said, “Why I know that boy, and have known him a good while. That’s not in him.”
Chief Jordan told the crowd on Saturday that police during that era abdicated their responsibility and historians shouldn’t try to gloss over it.
“I have heard things said like ‘well, that was a different time.’ That excuse does not hold water with me. I have been a Tulsa police officer since 1969 and I have witnessed scores of ‘different times.’ Not once did I ever consider that those changing times somehow relieved me of my obligation to uphold my oath of office and to protect my fellow Tulsans,” said Jordan.
Jordan said he believes the apology will bring healing and an end old grievances.
Ending old grievances would probably entail a financial payment for the destruction of property and wealth brought on by white armed thugs during that era, but since a federal appeals court decided in 2004 that a statute of limitations precluded the claims brought by riot survivors and descendants, that’s unlikely to happen. All over America, especially during the period called Red Summer, blacks were terrorized and run from their property. For the most part, no repayment by the white establishment has ever been offered.