Crowd Underwhelms Inside Trump's Tulsa Rally; Festive Block Party Caps Tense Day
The Oklahoma Public Media Exchange as part of Oklahoma Engaged is continuing to cover the developing story around Juneteenth celebrations, Donald Trump's rally and protests in Tulsa from June 19-21, 2020. Bookmark this page for the latest updates.
Post-Rally Tension Gives Way To Block Party
Updated June 20 at 11:32 p.m.
President Donald Trump has headed back to Washington D.C., following a speech that lasted for more than an hour and a half. The speech was overshadowed by an underwhelming crowd at the 19,000-seat BOK Center.
Claims of one million reserved tickets never materialized, as many seats in the venue remained empty. Outside the venue, an area to handle a projected overflow crowd was not needed and crews began dismantling the unused stage before Trump's speech began.
During his speech, Trump proclaimed that the recent uptick in COVID-19 cases was due to testing and that he asked to "slow down the testing."
Trevor Brown of Oklahoma Watch reports that Oklahoma Chief Operating Officer John Budd says they were not told to slow down testing in the state.
"I cannot speak for what is going on nationally, but I can say unequivocally that COVID-19 testing is not being throttled in Oklahoma, nor have we ever gotten any direction to do so from outside the state," Budd told Brown.
White House officials later said Trump was joking about the testing remark, which is a common response to his controversial remarks.
As the BOK Center crowd dispersed, protests were still happening nearby and those selling t-shirts and buttons could be seen packing things up.
StateImpact reporter Logan Layden says that along Boulder Avenue between 4th and 5th Street there was a growing crowd of Black Lives Matter supporters on one side of the street and on the other side, folks were shouting, "All Lives Matter." Layden says the BLM group was larger and things were a little tense, but he saw no violence.
A tweet from the Tulsa Police Department said that the crowd was causing traffic issues, but that it was mainly peaceful protests.
There are large groups of demonstrators who are walking around the downtown area adjacent to the event.
These groups are causing traffic issues, however they have been demonstrating peacefully.
Around 9:20 p.m., gas irritants were used to disperse a crowd gathered in the street.
After the #TulsaRally, on 4th & Boulder, crowd surrounded a man on a motorcycle. Things got tense. @TulsaPolice dispersed crowd by firing pepper balls @CBSNews pic.twitter.com/veNQdH4tnS— Omar Villafranca (@OmarVillafranca) June 21, 2020
Protesters shouted "Greenwood!" during a tense moment with police. About 1,000 or more people headed that way and appeared to be backing away from the police and opposing crowds.
As most of the crowd arrived in the Greenwood District around 10 p.m., the tension had mostly disappeared as a festive block party atmosphere took hold.
At 10:20pm, KWGS reporter Chris Polansky reports hundreds of people gathered in the streets, as DJs played music and classic cars, motorcyclists and bicyclists stopped in the middle of the road. Kids and pets were part of the crowd, as a block party vibe ensued with “Black Lives Matter” chants interspersed.
And, as if the day wasn’t jam-packed with enough news, an earthquake of 4.5 magnitude hit northwest of Perry, Okla. at 10:15 p.m. The shaking was felt in both Oklahoma City and Tulsa and the state seismologist called it the largest earthquake of 2020 in the state.
Trump Gives Meandering Speech, Admits Asking To Slow Down COVID-19 Testing
Updated June 20 at 8:28 p.m.
At the same time President Trump holds his campaign rally, a "Rally Against Hate" is taking place in Veterans Park, about two and a half miles southeast of BOK Center, tonight.
KWGS reporter Chris Polansky reports the scene is pretty tranquil with no visible law enforcement or counter protestors. Speakers include those from the Latinx, LGBTQ, Indigenous and faith communities.
My best guess is 500 folks here for the “Rally Against Hate” at Veterans Park, which is quite a bit less than projected (sensing a theme across Tulsa?) pic.twitter.com/ZNzF6HnNvN— Chris Polansky (@ChrisKPolansky) June 20, 2020
Inside the BOK Center, Trump blamed the smaller-than-expected crowd on the media who said "don't go" and protesters scaring away supporters.
Trump referred to the coronavirus as "Kung-Flu," which is widely thought of as racist and offensive. He also said the recent number of cases of COVID-19 was due to testing and asked to "slow down the testing." That's in direct contrast to his own coronavirus task force and top health officials who have said the key to opening up the country is more testing, followed by a treatment, a vaccine or both.
Trump spoke about the recent taking down of Confederate monuments and those linked with oppression and racism coming down saying, "[an] unhinged mob is trying to desecrate our beautiful monuments."
"We're not conforming to that, that's why we're here. This cruel campaign of censorship and exclusion violates everything we hold dear, “Trump said. “They want to erase our heritage."
Trump asked Oklahoma’s U.S. Senators James Lankford and Jim Inhofe to write legislation that if you burn the flag, you should go to jail for one year.
Regarding the crowd outside, Trump called those protesting "maniacs" that have come to "attack our country."
Reporters from KOSU, The Frontier and Tulsa World, have said the opposite with few arrests and a fairly peaceful scene.
"Our people are not as nearly as violent, but if they ever were it would be a terrible day for the other side," Trump said.
Outdoor Speech Cancelled, As Crowd Underwhelms
Updated June 20 at 6:52 p.m.
With plenty of empty seats at BOK Center in Tulsa, President Donald Trump is set to take the stage at 7 p.m. The Trump campaign says there will only be indoor speeches tonight from both the Vice President and President.
Campaign spokesman Tim Murtaugh claimed that "radical protesters" hindered supporters from entering the arena along with a "relentless onslaught of media."
A half-hour before Trump was set to take the stage inside, the outdoor stage was already being dismantled. Pool reporters say there's not much of a crowd left outside.
Crowd’s been moved behind the fence as the machinery comes to break down the overflow speech stage. The rally programming is on a break before Trump et al arrive. pic.twitter.com/QBdV8EHhuO— Dave Weigel (@daveweigel) June 20, 2020
Murtaugh compared the rally Trump is holding to a "sleepy campaign" being run by Joe Biden. Biden has said in a statement he will not be holding a rally out of respect for people's health and safety during the pandemic.
Outside the arena, there were some tense moments between protesters and counter protesters. The Frontier’s Kassie McClung showed law enforcement asking the media and demonstrators to move back, which they complied with. "Black Lives Matter" and "All Lives Matter" were chanted by the crowd.
One of the members of Tulsa's street medic team, Apollonia Piña, was handing out water to folks, but said she hadn't treated anyone for injuries.
Tulsa Mayor's Aide Resigns
Updated June 20 at 5:37 p.m.
An aide to Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum resigned his post today. In his resignation letter, Jack Graham wrote “I can no longer effectively support you and the decisions you make for Tulsa.”
Bynum and Governor Kevin Stitt have been criticized by dozens of community and health leaders for allowing the Donald Trump campaign rally to take place in Tulsa, amidst the pandemic.
June is already Oklahoma’s worst month in terms of COVID-19 cases. The state has seen an average of 281 new reported infections per day over the past seven days.
Tulsa County has the most active cases in the state with 772.
Notes From VP Pence's Roundtable In Tulsa
Updated June 20 at 5:21 p.m.
Tulsa Dream Center in the north part of the city hosted Vice President Mike Pence this afternoon in a roundtable with Governor Kevin Stitt, U.S. Senator James Lankford and local Black faith leaders.
According to pool reporters, Pence said he was here to listen following the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis and the unrest in the United States in recent weeks. "I'm a note taker," he said, hoping he will have "ears to hear" what the leaders say.
"There is no excuse for what happened to George Floyd. There is no excuse for the rioting and looting and violence that ensued," Pence said.
During the 45-minute roundtable, the group talked about the need for more education, prison reform, health disparities in the African American community and Tulsa being an example for how the country could move forward.
With basketball goals above his head, the Vice President was greeted warmly by the pastors, and there were no contentious moments. Pence largely sat in the middle of the table, nodding, smiling and taking notes as others spoke.
He briefly touted the President’s executive order on policing, and several pastors praised the administration for their opportunity zone policy. Pence promised to look for “practical solutions” and said the administration was weighing more criminal justice reform policy, but did not commit to specifics.
None of the event attendees or nearly 15 people in the audience were wearing a mask.
There were no protesters anywhere in sight at the church in north Tulsa. Reporters from Focus Black Oklahoma tried to attend the event but were cleared from the event. It's unclear why.
By 4:48 p.m., the VP was rolling away from the Tulsa Dream Center. Pool reporters said the caravan was headed straight to the BOK Center and not to the outdoor location. It’s unclear if Trump will speak at the outdoor stage as previously announced, or if a video feed will simply be piped to the outdoor stage.
VP Pence Arrives In Tulsa
Updated June 20 at 4:07 p.m.
At 3:30 p.m., Vice President Mike Pence arrived at the Tulsa Dream Center in north Tulsa to attend a round table forum with five local black faith leaders and several local politicians.
Those attending the roundtable include:
- Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt and First Lady Sarah Stitt
- Oklahoma U.S. Senator James Lankford and spouse Cindy Lankford
- Scott Turner, Executive Director, White House Opportunity and Revitalization Council
- Pastor Aaron Johnson, Administrative Pastor of Victory Church and Executive Director, Tulsa Dream Center
- Pastor Calvin Battle, Founder and Senior Pastor, Destiny Center
- Pastor Philip Abode, Executive Director, Crossover Preparatory Academy
- Dr. Paula Price, Chief Apostle, Congregation of the Might Ecclesial Embassy
- Dr. Howard Hatcher, Senior Pastor, International Outreach Ministry and Training Center
- John Gibbs, Acting Assistant Secretary for Community Planning and Development, Department of Housing and Urban Development
Earlier in the day, Black community leaders at a press conference in the Greenwood District made it clear that Pence was not welcome to visit the district. Tulsa Dream Center is about five miles north of the district.
Black leaders, including head of the Chamber of Commerce, pleaded with Mayor G.T. Bynum to cancel the Trump campaign rally.
"Respect your citizens. Respect their request. Respect and honor the health and safety of some of your most vulnerable citizens who have to work at that venue tonight. Those citizens are the elderly. Those citizens are the African Americans. We're asking you to do this if you care about your citizens," pleaded Dr. Tiffany Crutcher.
"This is not about a political ideology. This is not about a political party. This is about the health and safety of all Tulsans," said Greg Robinson II, a Tulsa mayoral candidate.
Both Robinson and Crutcher pleaded with people in the community to not counter-protest.
"Going up against hate in this way, playing into the dog whistles, playing into the trap is not what we need right now," said Robinson. "I have talked with people who feel angry. I am angry too. I have talked with people who feel unheard. I feel unheard too."
Six Trump Campaign Staffers Test Positive For COVID-19
Updated June 20 at 2:56 p.m.
Six Trump campaign staffers have tested positive ahead of today's rally. Here's the statement from Trump's communications team:
“Per safety protocols, campaign staff are tested for COVID-19 before events. Six members of the advance team tested positive out of hundreds of tests performed, and quarantine procedures were immediately implemented. No COVID-positive staffers or anyone in immediate contact will be at today’s rally or near attendees and elected officials. As previously announced, all rally attendees are given temperature checks before going through security, at which point they are given wristbands, facemasks and hand sanitizer.” – Tim Murtaugh, Campaign Communications Director
So far, at least one arrest has been made outside the BOK Center. Tulsa Police Department issued this statement on the arrest via their Facebook page. It states the woman was removed at the request of the Trump campaign.
Things are heating up downtown as two groups of protesters exchanged words. StateImpact reporter Logan Layden snapped this photo at 5th and Boulder in downtown Tulsa.
Greenwood Leaders Proclaim VP Pence Not Welcome
Updated June 20 at 1:03 p.m.
Community leaders held a press conference early this afternoon to plead with Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum to cancel tonight's Trump rally. Speakers said the rally should be cancelled due to violence and pandemic concerns.
Dr. Tiffany Crutcher asked Bynum to protect "your most vulnerable citizens," while Tulsa mayoral candidate Greg Robinson II called on Tulsans to not be goaded or drawn into violence downtown. Rev. Robert Turner of Vernon AME Church accused Bynum of allowing division and danger by letting the rally proceed.
Vice President Mike Pence had been reported to tour the Greenwood District today before the rally, but Crutcher proclaimed Pence is not welcome for a visit.
“Greenwood is CLOSED to the Trump administration... we did not invite @VP” - Dr Crutcher says she’s been told VP Pence WILL try to tour Black Wall Street in Tulsa today. pic.twitter.com/B5kz5KDHlx— Chris Polansky (@ChrisKPolansky) June 20, 2020
While it’s unlikely leaders would be able to stop Pence from touring the area, Crutcher called on people to cover the district in signs showing he is not welcome in Greenwood or Tulsa. She asked people to not be physically present in the area or put themselves in danger.
Crowds Line Up Outside BOK Center
Updated June 20 at 12:34 p.m.
Despite the rain, crowds began lining up outside the BOK Center this morning, where President Donald Trump is scheduled to hold a rally tonight at 7 p.m.
The Tulsa World reports at least one person was arrested this morning outside the venue. The woman who sported an “I Can’t Breathe” t-shirt told law enforcement officers that she had reserved a ticket, but was asked to leave the secure zone. After sitting down in protest, she was arrested by Tulsa Police officers.
Tulsa Police officers arrest protester Sheila Buck for trespassing after she entered the safety barricade of President Donald Trump’s campaign rally. In earlier photo she was praying for peace and equality. #tulsa #TrumpRallyTulsa @tulsaworld https://t.co/990ueGd8EC pic.twitter.com/pDVvPbMmRD— Mike Simons (@mikesimonsphoto) June 20, 2020
Vice President Mike Pence was due to depart Washington D.C. this morning to join Trump in Tulsa, but that is on hold due to thunderstorms.
Black leaders are gathering in the Greenwood Cultural Center today to make a final plea to Mayor G.T. Bynum to call off the Trump rally. Leaders say the rally has the potential to see COVID-19 rise dramatically and that it would hit African Americans in Tulsa the hardest.
"We Never Stopped Fighting!"
Updated June 19 at 11:28 p.m.
The Rev. Al Sharpton took the stage at a rally in Greenwood District in Tulsa and gave a passionate, forceful speech about why African American people celebrate Juneteenth.
"They put our forefathers on blocks and sold them like a bar of soap. But we never stopped fighting," Sharpton cried. "They took our names. To where we don't even know our names—we're named after those who owned our forefathers. But even nameless, we never stopped fighting!"
Sharpton spoke to a crowd of thousands in Tulsa who turned out to mark the day in 1865 when Union soldiers rode into Galveston, Texas and declared slaves to be free. This was nearly three years after President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation.
In his speech, Sharpton took on the latest national issue of the taking down of statues that memorialize the Confederacy and other symbols of oppression.
"Let me tell you what Juneteenth represents...when the Confederates tried to overtake this country and committed treason," Sharpton said to the crowd.
Sharpton continued, "When you see those of us talking about ‘take down the statues,’ can you imagine any country in the world that puts up statues and worships people that were traitors? If you would put traitor statues up in front of courthouses...no wonder we can't get justice in the courthouse!”
Sharpton's 21-minute speech was preceded by a host of speakers, including Dr. Tiffany Crutcher. Her brother Terence Crutcher was shot and killed by Betty Shelby, a Tulsa Police officer, in the fall of 2016. Crutcher was unarmed. Shelby was charged with first-degree manslaughter but was found not guilty. Shelby eventually got another job as sheriff’s deputy in a nearby county.
Tulsa resident Alesia Senter came out to celebrate Juneteenth and support Black Lives Matter. She's also fighting for justice. Her nephew Joshua Barre was shot by the Tulsa Police Department in the summer of 2017.
"We're still fighting for justice for him," she said as she pointed to the shirt she wore with his picture.
During a press event before the rally, Sharpton was introduced by Dr. Crutcher. He said that Juneteenth was both a celebration and a reminder. He spoke about the health disparities between Black people during the pandemic and what it's been like fighting for justice for those who have been victims of police shootings.
"The proper place for me to be is to remind us how far we've come and how far we've yet to go and yet to achieve," Sharpton said.
Two Different Realities
Updated June 19 at 6:54 p.m.
The Rev. Al Sharpton is set to speak at 7pm local time in Tulsa's Greenwood District, home to what was formerly known as Black Wall Street. Two to three thousand people are in attendance, according to reports from Focus: Black Oklahoma.
"You can feel the crowd growing. It's a festival,” StateImpact managing editor Logan Layden reports. “But powerful messages are coming from the speakers on stage."
State Representative Regina Goodwin and Alicia Andrews of the Oklahoma Democratic Party were on stage, as well as Vanessa Hall Harper, the Vice-Chair of the Tulsa City Council, who read a proclamation for the city.
Sharpton, who has allegedly been receiving death threats since he arrived in Tulsa, spoke to the press ahead of taking the stage. In reference to Trump’s comments about having never heard of Juneteenth, Sharpton said the President is either lying or ignorant.
“The Pres said he didnt know this was Juneteenth. He’s from New York. 2/3 of NY is Black or Latino. ... get up and explain when America was great. What was that date?” Rev Sharpton in Tulsa pic.twitter.com/kFtioBnN6R— Chris Polansky (@ChrisKPolansky) June 19, 2020
Chris Polansky of KWGS in Tulsa described the Juneteenth celebration as a "summer block party vibe (with masks and anti-racism messaging) with everyone in a great mood.” He noted there are bounce houses and a school bus giving kids free books.
Walking over to the BOK Center, Layden says there is a noticeable difference. The event in Greenwood tonight certainly is larger in crowd size than the folks hanging out by the venue. It's a predominantly white crowd talking about how much they love the president, passionately. Just a mile away is a multiracial crowd celebrating, eating popsicles, and listening to poets and speakers talk about criminal justice.
"[It’s] like two different realities," Layden explained.
One man's shirt at the Juneteenth celebration read, "Let's make Tulsa Great Again: Celebrate Black Wall Street."
Hand sanitizing stations and signs warning about COVID-19 could be seen around Guthrie Green.
A street medic team roving around downtown Tulsa say they have not seen any major medical issues.
Scenes From Friday's Events
Updated June 19 at 6:18 p.m.
Thousands of people were out during Juneteenth in Tulsa on the eve of the Trump rally set to take place at the BOK Center on Saturday.
Hundreds of people were camped outside the venue the night before. Some folks were selling masks, others were painting murals and some were just there to show their support for President Trump.
A truck drove around the Tulsa Arts District with the words "Reparations for Greenwood" on the side, referring to the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre.
Elizabeth Henley is one of the founders of Black Moon artist collective, an all Black arts organization in Tulsa. She and others were painting a Black Lives Matter mural on the side of the building, just blocks away from the BOK Center.
She told StateImpact managing editor Logan Layden that this is a historic moment.
"For 99 years, Tulsa has been divided and we're still hurting from what happened with the Race Massacre," Henley said. "And to have Trump come here now, it's like salt in the wound."
Jay Baker came all the way from Colorado. He was in Tulsa with a group handing out face shields to people in the crowd. His company, a 60-year-old plastics manufacturer, makes a specialty PPE that goes up over the hat and down to the chin.
Baker says local health professionals approached his company because they had a shortage of equipment. They've already donated 10,000 of them to hospitals.
"Whatever your beliefs are on this, I think we all have to agree we need to get back to some normalcy,” Baker said. “We can't all stay home. We have to get to a point where we're close and interacting."
Secure Zone Established Around BOK Center
Updated June 19 at 5:32 p.m.
While Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum’s curfew has been rescinded, The Tulsa Police Department has announced that in lieu of executive order, TPD, the U.S. Secret Service and multiple law enforcement agencies have established a secure zone around the BOK Center.
The limited-access secure zone is located between West Archer Street and West 6th Street and South Frisco Avenue and South Boulder Avenue.
Police officials say the zone gives “all law enforcement the ability to keep the area clear of individuals that are only present to break the law and disrupt the rights of people assembling peacefully.”
Rescinding the Executive Order 2020-11
June 19, 2020
On June 18, 2020 Mayor GT Bynum, under the advisement of Federal Authorities, put a portion of downtown Tulsa under a curfew for the safety of civilians who were coming to attend President Trump’s rally... pic.twitter.com/Nt6B3RTlt0— Tulsa Police (@TulsaPolice) June 19, 2020
Curfew Enacted, Then Rescinded
Updated June 19 at 4:00 p.m.
President Donald Trump tweeted that after a conversation Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum, the downtown curfew has been rescinded for Friday and Saturday night during the Trump rally at the BOK Center.
In an email, Bynum said, "Last night, I enacted a curfew at the request of Tulsa Police Chief Wendell Franklin, following consultation with the United States Secret Service based on intelligence they had received... Today, we were told the curfew is no longer necessary so I am rescinding it."
Bynum said he enacted the curfew because of information that "out of state" groups that had "engaged in extremely violent and destructive behavior" were headed to Tulsa. It's unclear where this information came from, but Trump tweeted something similar Friday morning.
Any protesters, anarchists, agitators, looters or lowlifes who are going to Oklahoma please understand, you will not be treated like you have been in New York, Seattle, or Minneapolis. It will be a much different scene!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 19, 2020
The rally at the BOK center begins Saturday at 7 p.m. Trump's campaign told reporters on Friday he would likely give an additional speech outside the BOK Center following the rally.
Oklahoma Supreme Court Denies Request to Stop Trump Rally
Updated June 19 at 2:24 p.m.
The Oklahoma Supreme Court says Donald Trump’s rally in Tulsa can proceed as planned. A group of Tulsa attorneys filed a lawsuit earlier this week attempting to enforce safety protocols in the venue where 19,000 people are expected to gather for the President’s first political rally in four months.
In their decision, the justices cited the state’s reopening plan, which allows the reopening of entertainment venues, such as the BOK Center. The plan does not include any mandatory requirements for face coverings or social distancing.
The attorneys called the rally ‘an imminent and deadly risk’. They filed the lawsuit on behalf of two businesses and two residents in an effort to stop the rally. Tulsa public health officials have expressed similar concerns about the event being a ‘super-spreader’ because it is indoors, and Tulsa has experienced a spike of COVID-19 cases in recent days.
One of the attorneys, Clark Brewster, represented adult film star Stormy Daniels in a lawsuit against Trump. In 2016, Daniels was paid $130,000 in exchange for signing a nondisclousre agreement about an affair she had with Trump in 2016. When the payment was reported in 2018, Daniels filed three lawsuits against Trump and his attorney Michael Cohen arguing that the nondisclosure agreement was invalid and that she had been defamed. Two of the lawsuits were dismissed, and the third was settled out of court. Trump’s attorney Michael Cohen did plead guilty to eight criminal charges, including a campaign finance violation for the Daniels payment.
In the lawsuit ahead of the Trump Tulsa rally, Brewster said his motivation was not about the president but was rather an attempt to avoid what he called ‘a certain spike in COVID-19 cases’ following the indoor rally that doesn’t require participants to take safety precautions.
Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum, Governor Kevin Stitt and President Trump’s campaign staff have said the attending the event is a matter of personal responsibility and that people who are vulnerable or may be infected should stay home.
Festive Atmosphere in Tulsa Ahead of Juneteenth Celebrations and Trump Rally
Logan Layden with KGOU and StateImpact Oklahoma and Seth Bodine of KOSU are outside the BOK Center. Shortly before noon on Friday, they described the atmosphere as festive with more than 100 people camped outside the venue in tents. The attendees were handing out promotional materials that look like $20 bills with Donald Trump’s face on the front, and others were driving by in a sort of parade yelling “Trump 2020” from open windows.
While numerous streets in the downtown area are closed for the security associated with a presidential visit, law enforcement didn’t have much of a visible presence outside of a few patrolling cars. Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt has activated the National Guard. They are expected to be in the area Friday evening.
In Greenwood District, ahead of the day’s Juneteenth celebrations, the atmosphere is also festive with face painters and food vendors making final preparations. On Thursday night, a group painted the “BLACK LIVES MATTER” in yellow letters that span the district’s main street. Various groups continue to call for the presidential campaign rally to be postponed or have enforced safety precautions.
The Oklahoma Democratic Party held a press conference Friday morning expressing concerns about the rally instigating hate activity and a spike in COVID-19 cases.
A group of pastors sent a letter to President Trump Friday making a series of demands for Trump to acknowledge the Tulsa Race Massacre, pave the way for reparations, increase police training nationwide for implicit bias and declare Juneteenth a national holiday.
Juneteeth Celebrations and Donald Trump in Tulsa -- What You Need to Know
Original Post: June 18 at 4:16 p.m.
President Donald Trump is holding his first reelection campaign rally during the COVID-19 pandemic in Tulsa this Saturday, despite a recent spike in coronavirus cases in the city and concerns the virus will spread.
The rally is scheduled for 7 p.m. Saturday at the BOK Center in downtown Tulsa, which has a capacity for 19,000 people. The Trump campaign has said more than 1 million ticket requests have been submitted.
Trump rescheduled the event, which was originally planned for Friday, after criticism over the event conflicting with Juneteenth celebrations.
The Juneteenth Planning Committee in Tulsa originally postponed official events due to concerns about COVID-19. However, another event, titled the “I, Too, Am America: Juneteenth Rally for Justice,” is being held 11 a..m. to 10 p.m. on Friday in the Greenwood District. Civil rights activist Rev. Al Sharpton will headline the event. The celebration comes as Tulsa approaches the 100-year anniversary of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre.
A ‘Rally Against Hate’ has been scheduled during the Trump campaign rally on Saturday in Veteran’s Park, which is just south of downtown.
A Potential Presidential Visit to the Site of the Tulsa Race Massacre
Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt invited President Trump to visit Greenwood ahead of the rally, but it has since fallen into a “flux.”
Less than a mile from the BOK Center, it would be the President’s first visit to the site of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre. The Massacre is one of the largest acts of racial violence in the nation’s history. White mobs burned down dozens of businesses and hundreds of homes in the area known as Black Wall Street. The city is still grappling with the issue. A new search for mass graves of the victims began earlier this year. The total death toll is still unknown, but historians now believe as many as 300 may have died, according to the Tulsa Historical Society.
“With the Secret Service it could be problematic to have the president go there because some things have to be disrupted and shut down for a presidential visit,” Stitt said.
A Spike in Tulsa County COVID-19 Cases
The presidential rally and other events scheduled for the weekend have caused concern for public officials, businesses and the public about the spread of COVID-19. A group of Tulsa attorneys filed a lawsuit to force the BOK Center to require social distancing measures during the rally, but a judge denied it.
Oklahoma State Department of Health commissioner Lance Frye issued a warning saying people who attend the rally are at an increased risk of contracting COVID-19 and transmitting the virus in a statement on Tuesday, and suggested getting tested after the event.
While Tulsa has seen the largest number of COVID-19 cases in the state in the last few weeks, Mayor B.T. Bynum said Wednesday he will not prevent the rally from taking place. As of Thursday, Tulsa has 1,825 confirmed cases, with 595 still active and 64 deaths according to the Tulsa Health Department.
A recent NPR survey of state health departments suggests Oklahoma does not meet the estimated contact tracing staffing needs to properly track and contain the virus.
Additional Security Measures Being Taken
More than 200 Oklahoma National Guard soldiers have been activated to provide security for the rally. The soldiers won’t be armed, but will have shields, pepper spray and batons. Several counter-protests have been scheduled on Saturday, including one outside the BOK Center and one organized by Black Lives Matter in Tulsa.
People from several states have already arrived in Tulsa for the Trump Reelection Rally, Juneteenth events and possible protests. A camp started forming on Monday outside the BOK Center, the main location for the rally.
Organizers of the Juneteenth event expected busses full of people from Illinois and several other states to arrive ahead of Friday night’s events. Several downtown hotels have reported they are at capacity for the weekend.
Many businesses in the downtown area announced they were closing for portions of the weekend to protect their property and the safety of employees. That includes local convenience store chain QuikTrip, which closed and boarded up five locations Wednesday.
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