Authorities in Oklahoma are investigating the arrest of two black teenagers who were accused by white police officers of jaywalking in a Tulsa neighborhood where some areas had patchy sidewalks or no visible footpaths.
Tulsa police on Tuesday released two body camera videos of the officers who handcuffed two black teenagers on June 4 around 5 p.m. for allegedly jaywalking after a video of their arrest went viral on social media.
In one video, an officer approaches the pair from behind who can be seen walking in the middle of the street in what appears to be a residential Tulsa neighborhood. Within seconds, an officer tries to restrain one of the teens who becomes visibly frustrated.
The other video shows both officers forcing the teen to the ground as he physically struggles with them. The other teen tells the teen who’s on the ground lying on his stomach to “chill out.” An officer handcuffed the teen on the ground as the other teen asked the officers why the teen was getting arrested.
“All he was doing was jaywalking,” one officer responds to the teen. “We just want to talk with him. Then he had to act a fool like that.”
The arrests come in the wake of the killing of 46-year-old George Floyd, who died May 25 after a white Minneapolis police officer pressed his knee into the handcuffed black man’s neck for several minutes even after Floyd stopped moving and pleading for air.
The nearly 20-minute videos show an officer remaining on top of the teenager who lied on his stomach even after he was handcuffed.
“Get off me! I can’t breathe! I can’t breathe! I can’t breathe!” the teen shouted.
“You can breathe just fine,” the officer replied. “You’re fine.”
“Sir, he has handcuffs on. What is he gonna do?” said the other teenager, who later got handcuffed but was sitting on the curb.
The officers repeated to the teenagers that they broke the law because they jaywalked. Body camera videos show that the area had patchy or no visible sidewalks.
The teenager who was handcuffed first was forced into a police car as he yelled profanities at the officers. He called the officers “evil” and racist and said they arrested him because he’s black. He shouted, “Call my mama! Call my mama!”
“Because I’m black … I’m a criminal,” the teen yelled at one officer as they both physically struggled while putting the teen in the car. “Black lives matter!”
Body camera footage shows the other teen was let go.
Tulsa is the second largest city in Oklahoma, with a population comprising about 66% white and 16% black, according to U.S. Census data.
It was not immediately known if the teens were issued a citation or formally charged. Messages and an email sent to the Tulsa Police Department weren’t returned Wednesday.
Greg Robinson, a community activist and organizer, told KJRH-TV that the police department will probably conclude that the officers were following protocol.
“And they probably were,” Robinson said. “But that’s the problem. Why do we need more enforcement when we don’t feel like the police are protecting us? We feel like they’re hunting us.”
Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum wrote in a Facebook post that he saw the footage of the teens’ arrest and that he’s working with the police department on the investigation.
“I want every kid in Tulsa to feel safe to walk down the street in their neighborhood,” he wrote. “No Tulsa kid should have to fear being tackled and cuffed for walking down the street.”
Tulsa police said the department released the body camera videos to be transparent but that it will not comment on the arrest because the Internal Affairs Unit is investigating.
Meanwhile, the department’s Major Travis Yates is facing backlash over comments in an article by Public Radio Tulsa published Tuesday, which referenced an interview Yates did with Talk Radio 1170 on Monday. According to the article, Yates said research shows that police are shooting black Americans about 24% less than “we probably ought to be, based on the crimes being committed.”
The article also says Yates expressed in the interview that systemic racism in policing “just doesn’t exist.”
On Wednesday, Yates said in a statement that the article made it seem like he said some statements as his opinion without making clear that he prefaced those statements with sources.
The police department distanced itself from Yates’ comments, saying they don’t align with its policies or mission. Tulsa mayor said Yates’ comments are under review.
“I want to believe he didn’t intend to say what he did, but what he did say goes against everything we are trying to achieve in community policing,” Bynum wrote in Facebook post referring to Yates’ comments.