OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Black community and political leaders called on President Donald Trump to at least change the Juneteenth date for a rally kicking off his return to public campaigning, saying Thursday that plans for a rally on the day that marks the end of slavery in America come as a “slap in the face.”
From Sen. Kamala Harris of California to Tulsa civic officials, black leaders said it was offensive for Trump to pick that date — June 19 — and that place — Tulsa, an Oklahoma city that in 1921 was the site of a fiery and orchestrated white-on-black killing spree.
“This isn’t just a wink to white supremacists — he’s throwing them a welcome home party,” Harris, a leading contender to be Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden’s running mate, tweeted of Trump’s rally plans.
“Tulsa is outraged,” said Sherry Gamble Smith, president of Tulsa’s Black Wall Street Chamber of Commerce, an organization named after the prosperous black community that white Oklahomans burned down in the 1921 attack. Tulsans marked the 99th anniversary of what was one of modern America’s bloodiest rampages targeting black communities a week ago.
“To choose the date, to come to Tulsa, is totally disrespectful and a slap in the face to even happen,” Gamble Smith said.
At a minimum, Gamble Smith said, the campaign should “change it to Saturday the 20th, if they’re going to have it.”
Trump announced the rally plan as he met with a handful of African American supporters on Wednesday afternoon. It comes as his harsh law-and-order stance appears to fall increasingly out of sync with a growing concern over police abuse of African Americans after the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
Trump campaign officials defended the rally plan.
“As the party of Lincoln, Republicans are proud of the history of Juneteenth,” said Katrina Pierson, senior adviser to the Trump campaign. “President Trump has built a record of success for Black Americans, including unprecedented low unemployment prior to the global pandemic, all-time high funding for Historically Black Colleges and Universities, and criminal justice reform.”
Trump’s campaign has been eager to resume large rallies as it tries to move past the coronavirus pandemic and reconnect with the president’s conservative base in his favorite format.
While Trump focused most of his rallies earlier this year on battleground states, Oklahoma stands out as reliable Trump territory. It gave him a 36 percentage point victory in the state in 2016.
But Tulsa, an oil center along the Arkansas River in the northeast of the state, has had its own marches, viral videos and problematic police actions during this month’s unrest.
On Tuesday, Tulsa police released video and said they were investigating officers who handcuffed and arrested two black teenagers for jaywalking. Video of the June 4 incident showed officers forcibly pinned one of the two unidentified teens stomach-down on the ground.
“Get off me! I can’t breathe! I can’t breathe! I can’t breathe!” one teen shouts in the police video.
“You can breathe just fine,” the officer replies.
On Monday, a Tulsa police major played down police shootings of African Americans nationally by telling a radio show that statistically, “we’re shooting African Americans about 24% less than we probably ought to be, based on the crimes being committed.”
And on Wednesday, the same day Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum welcomed news of Trump’s rally pick as evidence of the city’s progress against COVID-19, Bynum apologized for recent remarks about a 2016 Tulsa police killing of an unarmed black man. Bynum had said the killing was “more about the really insidious nature of drug utilization than it is about race.”
Nationally, as research brings to light more about the 1921 massacre and its victims, Tulsa increasingly has become associated with the rampage in which white Tulsans razed a thriving black business community, killing as many as 300 people. Long dismissed by generations of white Tulsans as a race “riot,” the May 31-June 1 events were marked this year by community memorials.
Oklahoma’s black Democratic Party state chairwoman also condemned Trump’s rally plan. “A day set aside to commemorate the freedom of enslaved people must not be marred by the words or actions of a racist president,” Alicia Andrews said.
Community groups had earlier canceled a main Tulsa Juneteenth celebration because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Some black Tulsans said they planned to turn out for public protests of Trump on that day. “There’s definitely going to be demonstrating,” Gamble Smith said.
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