BY HAZEL TRICE EDNEY
TRICE EDNEY NEWS WIRE
The Tulsa (Oklahoma) Police Department quickly arrested two White men as suspects in the apparently random shootings of five Black men out walking.
Three were killed and two survived the shootings, which occurred at four different locations over four hours starting around 1 a.m. last Friday.
Initially, witnesses described a lone White man driving a White pickup truck as the suspect. Police announced Sunday that they had arrested two White males.
Jacob England, 19, and Alvin Watts, 32, were charged with three counts of murder and shooting with an attempt to kill. The pickup truck was discovered burned near a house where the two men were found hiding early Sunday.
Slurs on Facebook
Police say it was too early to attribute race as a motive, but a posting on England’s Facebook page, shown by CNN, said, “Today is two years that my dad has been gone, shot by a f—-ing n—-r. it’s hard not to go off between that and sheran I’m gone in the head.”
Though police continue to investigate, speculation is that the possible motive was that England’s father was shot and killed two years ago during an alleged burglary by a Black man who was never prosecuted. England’s girlfriend, named Sheran, reportedly shot and killed herself in front of him and their baby in January.
Police and city officials issued widespread pleas for information from witnesses. Officials credit numerous tips with the quick arrest. As the investigation developed, they expressed fear that some in the Black community might become vigilantes.
“We feel like he’s targeting African-Americans,” said the Rev. Warren Blakney, Sr., president of the Tulsa NAACP. “We have to handle this because there are a number of African-American males who are not going to allow this to happen in their neighborhood.”
Died in yard
The FBI has joined the investigation to determine whether the shootings are in fact hate crimes.
The three who died are Dannaer Fields, 49, found with gunshot wounds in a yard about 1 a.m. on April 6; Bobby Clark, 54, found an hour later shot in a street; and William Allen, 31, was found shot to death in a funeral home yard around 8:30 a.m.
The two surviving men were found with gunshot wounds in a yard two blocks from where Fields’ body was found.
One of the two survivors said the truck pulled up and someone inside asked the men for directions before firing the gun when they walked away.
“This is an event that is unprecedented in our recent history, and it is certainly one that … we want to bring to an end very quickly,” said Tulsa Mayor Dewey Bartlett in an interview with CNN’s Don Lemon.
Reminder of race riots
The shootings easily sparked recollections of the historic 1921 race riots in Tulsa, described as the bloodiest in U. S. history. Despite what some describe as racial harmony in the city 91 years later, the facts of that incident remain just under the surface since African-Americans never fully received justice.
In that situation, Dick Rowland, a 19-year-old African-American accidentally stepped on the foot of Sarah Page, a White elevator operator in a downtown Tulsa office building, who in turn tried to hit Rowland with her purse and he quickly fled. The incident quickly spread into a rumor; then a lie that Rowland had raped the woman.
More than 400 Whites gathered at the county jail intending to lynch the Black teen. Meanwhile, two waves of armed Blacks showed up at the jail, offering to help protect the prisoner.
The second wave of Blacks, like the first, was told their services were not needed. As they began to depart, a White man, possibly a deputy, attempted to disarm one of the African-Americans and a shot was fired. Other shots followed, leaving more than a dozen dead.
Within hours, mobs of Whites converged upon the Black residents of Tulsa’s Greenwood Avenue district, a 40-block showcase of Black businesses and homes, known as the Black Wall Street. The governor activated the Oklahoma National Guard and two companies of soldiers from nearby Fort Sill were called to duty.
Machine guns were used to shoot any Black person in sight; airplanes dropped nitroglycerin on the neighborhood. When it was over 16 hours later, at least 300 Blacks were dead, 1,503 residences had been destroyed and more than 600 businesses had been closed, including two Black newspapers, the Tulsa Star and the Oklahoma Sun.
Now, more than nine decades later, victims never got justice. A 2005 Supreme Court ruling said the statute of limitation to file claims in the case had expired.
The shootings also come amidst heated racial tensions around the nation in the aftermath of the Trayvon Martin killing in Florida.
Some see the weekend shootings as revenge killings for the death of England’s father. But, to shoot innocent men because they are the same race as an alleged killer is still categorized as racially motivated; therefore a hate crime. Nevertheless, Police Chief Chuck Jordan will not jump to any conclusions.
“It sickens me. It angers me. This is not what Tulsa, Oklahoma is all about,” Jordan told reporters Sunday afternoon. “You can look at the facts of the case and appear to come up with a logical theory, but we’re going to follow the leads where they take us…We’re going to explore any possible motives.”