Air travel problems kept the national president of the NAACP from speaking in Tulsa on Sunday night, but that didn’t detract from the enthusiasm of the service, as Tulsa pastors and leaders stepped up to the podium.
Cornell William Brooks was scheduled to speak at Morning Star Baptist Church in the aftermath of the Sept. 16 shooting death of Terence Crutcher by Tulsa police officer Betty Shelby, who has been charged with first degree manslaughter.
In his place, Anthony Douglas, president of the Oklahoma NAACP, said his organization was calling on the Tulsa police department to remove all the officers that were involved in the shooting.
The service, attended by several hundred people with the theme “Speaking Justice, Seeking Peace” was one of numerous gatherings held in Tulsa in recent days as the city deals with the shooting, which has drawn international attention.
The gathering was, above anything else, a church service, with prayer, worship, drama, and spirited gospel music.
The Rev. Bertheophilus Judge Bailey, general pastor, St. Andrew Baptist Church, prayed that the “God who loves justice and peace” can feel the pain of the world.
“God, you know that we live in a troubled world . …
“Show us the way. Give us wisdom beyond human understanding.”
Recording artist the Rev. A. Cortes Rex Jr., Beverly Hills, sang “God Bless America.” He said America is “really hurting right now,” and he was singing the song as a prayer for America.
Mistress of ceremonies Rebecca Marks Jimerson said that violence that happened in Charlotte has not happened here because “we come together in peace.”
The Rev. Rodney Goss, Morning Star pastor, said the primary purpose of the gathering is to show support for the Crutcher family.
“We are first and foremost Tulsans,” he said.
“We have to learn how to find our strength right here in Tulsa, … to stand on our own feet and demand justice.
“We pray that this night will be a night of unity, prayer and love, because that’s what’s going to get us through this time.”
City Councilor Jack Henderson said, “I’ve had a hard, hard time with this.”
“Tulsa is really great at ‘we came together tonight,’ ” he said.
“But what if we did this all the time. I’m sick and tired of people thinking we have a tale of two cities. We should have everyone standing together for the same cause.”
He urged black people to not be silent about reporting crime.
“Change is on the way,” he said.
“I’ve never seen anybody be charged so fast. We’re moving in the right direction.
“We’ve come a long way as a city. We still have racism, but we’re working on it.”
Joe Williams, former city councilor, extended his condolences to the Crutcher family.
He said Joey Crutcher, father of the victim, told him he was praying for the officer’s family, “because her life has changed too.”
He praised Police Chief Chuck Jordan for releasing the video of the shooting.
He said police officers also are victims of racism and bigotry.
“People want to be heard. It’s time for those in power to sit and start listening,” he said.
Pleas Thompson, NAACP Tulsa chapter president, said he was hopeful that Tulsans remain level-headed and allow the justice system to work.
The Rev. Freeman Culver, Pastor Handy Chapel AME, said that “as a young kids, our parents had a talk with us, a talk that must include what it means to be a young black in society.”
“Tonight we are here because …. it appears that shoot first, ask questions later, could be a policy that some authorities have.”
He said it is clear that there are problems in society.
“On so many occasions, we have seen injustice, but we are here to seek solutions.
“It was our talking, and our praying, that put this fire out in Tulsa,” he said.
“Let’s not give up if we don’t see quick results.”
Aliye Shimi, director of outreach, Islamic Society of Tulsa, said that as a Tulsa Muslim, she was deeply saddened by Crutcher’s death.
“My soul weeps,” she said.
“I understand the frustrations of my black brothers and sisters,” she said, because as a Muslim she has faced discrimination many times, just for wearing a head scarf.
“We cannot talk about justice without talking about racism,” she said.
Byron Berry of Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity asked, “Why must we continually prove our place in society?”
“We cannot let our identity be given to us by anyone else. We must believe our identity is what we believe it is.
“We are the solution. Each of us.
“No form of oppression has broken our spirit. Through it all, let’s keep God first. Let’s lift each other at all times, and believe who we are.”
Moises Echeverria, executive director of the Oklahoma Center for Community and Justice, thanked leaders for their handing of the case, which allowed room to grieve.
“We must never forget Friday, Sept. 16, the day Tulsa was reminded that our city is not immune to systemic racism.”
He urged all Tulsans to unite to ensure it never happens again.
“It is an issue that affects all of us; whatever affects one directly affects all of us indirectly. “
The Rev. Marlin Lavanhar, All Souls Unitarian Church, said he wanted to talk about someone the authorities thought was a “bad dude.”
His name was Jesus.
“With his hands up, they killed him.”
What’s happening in Tulsa is not new, he said.
“Racism is as American as apple pie.”
He said he was calling on his white church members, and white pastors, to do the hard work of unlearning racism.
“It’s long overdue for white people to make intentional efforts to rewire the patterns of prejudice.”
The Rev. David Wiggs, pastor of Boston Avenue United Methodist Church, said, “Our hearts breaks with yours.”