In 2020, Terence Crutcher Foundation conducted an analysis of Tulsa’s racial inequalities in justice and economic mobility. We had two main goals: first, learning how the criminal legal system economically impacts the lives of Tulsans —particularly Black, brown and low-income communities —and how to make structural changes to transform that system; and second, to explicitly talk about the role that race and racism play in the system so that solutions focus on liberation for Black, Indigenous, and people of color. This report summarizes our findings and shares our analysis of the root causes and impacts of mass incarceration and economic privation, especially for Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) in Tulsa. We propose an initial set of strategies for change and make recommendations to enhance community capacity for safety and economic liberation. The report also includes a growth plan.
Our analysis is grounded in the historical, political, and cultural context of Oklahoma and guided by the wisdom and scholarship of BIPOC abolitionist women including Mariame Kaba, Ruth Wilson Gilmore, Andrea Ritchie, Elizabeth Hinton, Angela Y. Davis, and many others. Our research involved facilitating interviews and focus groups with community organizers and experts, consulting with policymakers and impacted community members, reviewing and synthesizing both established and emerging thought leadership from the field, and assessing available data sets and analysis. Our recommendations are grounded in the wisdom and guidance of the community members who are hardest hit by the system. Our conclusions are drawn from this research and based on decades of activism and mobilizing for racial justice in Oklahoma and beyond.
In this report, we sketch out a generational vision for Oklahoma: how we can achieve justice and economic mobility in 25 years with the right resources, political will, and leadership. We then identify the current barriers and structural obstacles to our desired future state. Finally, we highlight the existing assets and emerging opportunities we can build on, and identify the necessary strategies for change to get us there. The appendices to this report contain several additional pieces: a glossary to define key terms, peer and aspirant efforts in Oklahoma and nationwide, resources for further information, a list of interviewees, and detailed information about Terence Crutcher Foundation and the authors of this report.
Due to time constraints, we could not examine every facet of the criminal legal system’s disparate injustices on all communities and their intersections. To this end, we focused on particular experiences within the Black community and, to a lesser extent, other communities of color. We acknowledge the necessary coalitional work needed within marginalized communities affected by this system, many of whom are not separate communities but so often overlap to create a vortex of violence at the hands of this system. This report does not cover issues of Indigenous sovereignty and its impacts on the state of Oklahoma or the connections between settler colonialism and the prison industrial complex. It does not highlight the explicit targeting of BIPOC queer and trans people by policing institutions and the impacts that these systems have on people with disabilities and undocumented people within and outside these communities. We hope to build on this report and be accountable for the necessary work across intersections of those harmed by the carceral state. We ensure the work birthed and continued from this report will derive from the vitality of understanding that our struggles are linked, that our enemy is the same, and that out of this understanding must come action to show up for all of us.
Do you have something meaningful to add to this project in light of the research limitations noted here? Email email@example.com to start the conversation.
On the centennial of the worst incident of racial violence in U.S. history, Terence Crutcher Foundation occupies an office that looks directly onto two of the most ensuring symbols of racial division in Tulsa: the railroad tracks that have segregated our city since before statehood, and I-244 (ironically named Martin Luther King Jr. Expressway), which tore through what was left of the historic Greenwood District toward the end of Urban Renewal in the 1970s.
When we envision a racially just, economically mobile future, we see a Tulsa where the side of the tracks a child is born doesn’t determine whether they grow up in unsafe neighborhoods with the constant presence of police cars, go to schools where metal detectors and “resource officers”are a fixture, learn in classrooms where teachers assume they’re up to no good, and must leave their family and community for quality educational and job opportunities. Our dream for Tulsa is one where neighbors know and support one another, conflict and crisis are rare and taken care of within community, and everyone has their needs met because resources are abundant and shared. Most importantly, our vision for Tulsa is one where currently oppressed communities have autonomy over their lives and their futures, instead of state actors, external service providers, or outside entities.
When we think of community, we lean on Critical Resistance’s definition in their Harm Free Zone Project General Framework:
“By ‘communities’ of the oppressed we mean communities of shared daily living, or history, or identity, or struggle, or resistance, or visions. We often begin with communities that are at present not united or in solidarity; but fragmented, dispersed, and often not self-aware as communities. Solidarity is born of community investment. Community members experience degrees and forms of investment in a community: they experience a sense of place, belonging, support, companionship, shared strategies for survival, and, not infrequently, shared identity.”
We envision a future where neighborhoods that today are divided by disinvestment, violence, and structural oppression can instead be in solidarity through shared investment, mutual accountability, and community safety. We envision a time when public infrastructure and private investment aligns with the needs, values, and expectations of the people who live with them. We envision neighbors who feel a sense of belonging, helping one another through moments of conflict and crisis, on their own terms and with their own resources. We envision transforming our shared struggle into shared identity, shared resistance, and shared power.
Often dismissed as flyover country, Oklahoma has tremendous untapped opportunity for progressive change. Our rich history is a study in contrasts: opportunity and loss, growth and destruction, freedom and servitude. As the final stop on the Trail of Tears, several Indigenous tribes were forcibly relocated here under genocidal conditions (many bringing their enslaved Africans with them), only to then have the lands and resources granted them by treaty systematically deprived by the government (Oklahoma elementary schools still celebrate this theft on “Land Run Day”).
Statehood came a few years later, and the first bill passed in Oklahoma was a Jim Crow law, beginning de jure segregation that set the stage for geographic and economic divisions we still see today. Nonetheless, Oklahoma had periods of progressive leadership and prosperity, boasting the largest number of All-Black Towns in the nation, and Tulsa’s Greenwood District was internationally recognized as the Black Wall Street.
Tulsa is a city of state violence and unhealed hurts. In Tulsa, Black Oklahomans built one of the most economically vibrant districts in history despite segregation and a post-war recession, only to have it be destroyed by a state-sanctioned white mob in 1921 in the worst incident of racial violence in U.S. history. The intervening century has been steeped in a heavily enforced silence, continued wealth destruction and privation, and no repair. Under the weight of our inherited secrecy, generations of trauma and racial violence, openly recognized by some and steadfastly disregarded by others, have seeped into Tulsa’s fabric.
This legacy of violence and denial remains visible: beyond the hyper-segregation of our neighborhoods, schools, and workplaces, Oklahoma is also at the bottom of most health, economic, and quality-of-life rankings. But rather than approaching these issues systemically, mainstream leaders too often opt to address them symptomatically, focusing on direct services (and relying increasingly on nonprofits to provide them, as state leadership continues to starve government programs). Further adding insult, the prevailing attitude toward inequity is steeped in punishment, scapegoating, and victim-blaming, exemplified by as 2013 editorial by the state’s largest paper, in response to Oklahoma Policy Institute’s alarming report on the state’s racial wealth gap. As The Oklahoman said:
“Oklahoma’s history undeniably includes shameful treatment of minorities…but those acts are now history, in every sense of the word. … the data largely demonstrates the impact of personal choices. State policies don’t force people to drop out of school, smoke or become obese. … no one forces an individual to commit a crime; business owners aren’t eager to hire ex-cons of any color. … The problems…are real. But they’re often the result of personal choices, not racism.”
More recently, in the midst of 2020’s nationwide racial justice uprisings in response to the murder of George Floyd, Tulsa Mayor GT Bynum echoed the victim-blaming sentiment in an interview with CBS Sunday Morning, when he dismissed the notion that Terence Crutcher (the namesake of our organization, an unarmed Black man killed by police) would have survived the encounter had he been white: “It is more about the really insidious nature of drug utilization than it is about race, in my opinion.”
Tulsa’s generational legacy of racial violence persists to this day, and requires significant cultural, political, and social paradigm shifts to produce healing, reconciliation, and justice.
The city of Norman is known as the most progressive city in the state of Oklahoma; mostly a result of being a traditional college town, home to the University of Oklahoma. To this end, in the summer of 2020, Norman City Council voted to reallocate $865,000 from the city’s police budget to community efforts and mental health services. The backlash to the Council’s responsiveness to their constituents’ demands was severe and resurfaced Norman’s deep history with systemic racism. From 1889 to 1967, Norman was a Sundown Town: an all-white city where Black residents were explicitly banished after dark, with white mob violence enforcing any violation.
In the months following the 1889 Oklahoma Land Run, white residents of Norman, often in Klan-led lynch mobs, forcibly removed Black residents from the city through violent means. The city’s practices of de facto racism did not end until Dr. George Henderson and his spouse Barbara moved to Norman to begin teaching at the University of Oklahoma in 1967, finally integrating the city as its first Black homeowners. It was not until 2020 that the City of Norman officially apologized through proclamation for this dark history of the city. Its legacies still very much remain.
Oklahoma’s capital and Tulsa’s twin urban hub has a long history of state-sanctioned repression and activism. On August 19, 1958, high school and civil rights activist Clara Luper coordinated a sit-in of Katz Drug Store, a segregated shop in Oklahoma City, launching the nation’s sit-in movement and beginning the push for integration in the city. Luper’s strategic prowess and knack for organizing young students earned her a place in Oklahoma history books. Oklahoma City’s Black population has also faced a long history of systemic racism that surfaced in strict redlining policies, which generated deeply segregated neighborhoods and schools, as well as resource vacuums where marginalized communities get very little.
The contrast between neighboring communities is stark: the predominantly Black East side has been a food desert for generations, with historic disinvestment and crumbling infrastructure. But just a few short blocks North lies Nichols Hills: a historically white and affluent neighborhood, where a number of grocery stores offer fresh foods and frequent new developments serve residents with myriad housing, entertainment, and employment options. More recently, Oklahoma City’s east side and other neighborhoods with concentrations of BIPOC residents have experienced rapid and violent waves of gentrification with each MAPS development package; that legacy continues as the city continues its rapid economic growth at the expense of the city’s poor and communities of color.
Endless data exists to demonstrate racial disparities across the continuum of Oklahoma’s criminal legal system, from school discipline to arrest rates to sentencing to re-entry. Most recently, the City of Tulsa’s own Equality Indicators report points to several measures of significant racial disparities in policing — none of which have improved in the three years since tracking began.
While evidence of inequality is plentiful, there is less consensus is on the root causes of these disparities: are they a result of disparate behavior by communities of color, or disparate treatment by the institutions within and around the criminal legal system? When a Massachusetts state supreme court justice commissioned a study to answer this question in that state, Harvard Law School’s conclusion was consistent: racism within the system accounted for all the measurable disparities. As they are in Oklahoma, Black and Latinx people are overrepresented in Massachusetts’ criminal caseloads; sentencing type, severity, and duration; and incarceration. As The Root summarized,
“What they found is the criminal justice system is unequal on every level. Cops in the state are more likely to stop Black drivers. Police are more likely to search or investigate Black residents. Law enforcement agents charge Black suspects with infractions that carry worse penalties. Prosecutors are less likely to offer Black suspects plea bargains or pre-trial intervention. Judges sentence Black defendants to longer terms in prison. And get this: The average white felon in the Massachusetts Department of Corrections has committed a more severe crime than the average Black inmate.”
While not identical in scope, Human Rights Watch (HRW) used Tulsa as a case study to conduct a similar analysis focused specifically on race and policing, and concluded that,
“Black people, even regardless of wealth or poverty, disproportionately receive aggressive treatment by police. … Black people nearly all had personal experiences of abusive policing, ranging from extreme violence towards themselves or family members, to more mundane harmful interactions like unnecessary traffic stops, coercive searches and intimidating encounters.”
As a result, they found, “Black leaders reported that fear of police and experience of mistreatment by police are facts of life in their communities.” HRW also found qualitative evidence that Latinx Tulsans experience similar treatment, but TPD’s data limitations made it impossible to analyze Latinx arrest and stop patterns; in one TPD report of arrests over a two-year period that we reviewed, 46% of arrestees’ ethnicities were marked “Unknown” in the Hispanic or Non-Hispanic field.
To understand the root causes of all these disparities, it is critical to understand the system that produces them.
The carceral state is a system of social control that reinforces racial, economic, and other social divisions. Think of an iceberg: some parts are visible (the ice above the water), while others are hidden (the ice below the water), and, underneath it all, there are deeper cultural values (the water the iceberg swims in) that hold the system up. The visible ice of the carceral state includes the criminal legal system apparatus: law enforcement, the courts, jails and prisons, parole, and so on. But below the water line are less obvious institutions and practices that reinforce the system, as well as social norms and values that encompass the full apparatus of the carceral state and keep it in place — so even as reforms address the formal mechanism of incarceration, the covert dimensions of the system are left unchecked, continuing the cycle.
The carceral state in the U.S. utilizes the technology of race to organize Americans geographically and economically, and uses the pervasive attitudes of racism to uphold the structure. There is a meta-ideology driving the system that we call the “Law & Order Narrative,” which we characterize as follows:
Crime and inequality are an inevitability in society because there are certain segments of the population who, without strict rules and harsh reinforcement, pose a dangerous risk to the social order. It is therefore the responsibility of the state to protect the safety of ordinary citizens and private property by monitoring and controlling would-be criminals. When those individuals eventually behave badly, the appropriate response of the state is punishment — and because certain people are beyond rehabilitation, the purpose of that punishment is retribution and confinement, rather than accountability.
To the extent that a carceral state exists, as the Law & Order Narrative goes, it’s a natural and desirable byproduct of criminal behavior committed by socially deviant individuals who are deserving of punitive consequences. It conveniently takes the existence of crime for granted, rather than recognizing crime as a social construct that is created and redefined over time, often to pathologize groups of individuals by criminalizing their behavior. By erasing the social structures that contribute to criminal behavior, the Law & Order Narrative reduces the causes, effects, and solutions to the individual level — obscuring systemic causes like economic privation, isolation, disinvestment, and structural violence. The criminal legal system actually contributes to these systemic causes, creating a cycle that reinforces and validates itself.
The ecosystem represented by carceral state iceberg comprises three “peaks” — criminalization, surveillance, and confinement — held up by deep-seated cultural values that reinforce a broader narrative of good vs. bad, worthy vs. expendable, contributor vs. burden, and so on. Because these ideas are so prevalent in our culture, understanding and interrogating the carceral state framework is crucial to properly addressing its adverse racial and economic impacts, lest we risk unintentionally reinforcing one aspect of it even as we unravel another.
Though we often think of “crime” as an objective term for all acts of violence and harm, crime is a social and legal construction that is deeply subjective, morphing to maintain power structures. Laws manufacturing new crimes were used to re-enslave recently freed Black Americans, as the 13th Amendment maintained slavery “as a punishment for crime.” In Slavery by Another Name, Douglas Blackmon describes how laws were written after the Emancipation Proclamation to intentionally criminalize actions of Black residents to push them back into a system of involuntary servitude. Mirroring chattel slavery, Black people labeled “criminal” could be thrust back on to the plantations from which they were freed. During the Great Nadir — the period from post-Reconstruction until around 1923 often considered the worst period in history for Black Americans — the courts and deputized white mobs carried out “justice” in the criminal legal system. This period encompasses the lynching era and the rise of the Ku Klux Klan as the main source of order in society, with the 1921 Tulsa Massacre serving as a notable example. Black Tulsans were criminalized for being self-reliant through mob “justice,” then confined to internment camps and camps and forced into unpaid labor to clean up the wreckage of Greenwood. This reinforcement of order by violent means is what criminalization serves to carry out. In every period in American history, Black people have been forced into new forms of subservience. The criminal legal system is the latest iteration of this long history.
Criminalization, the first peak of the carceral state, pathologizes the behaviors, beliefs, or identities of marginalized communities to reduce them to criminals. Historical and current examples abound: the Fugitive Slave Act criminalized Blacks escaping from bondage even in “free” states, laws banning Indigenous languages and spiritual traditions turned Native Americans into savage outlaws, anti-sodomy and degeneracy laws rendered LGBTQ+ people as deviants, militarizing the southern U.S. border turned undocumented immigrants into “illegals”, the War on Drugs turned substance abuse in communities of color into crimes, child welfare regulations criminalize poor mothers, and so on. Laws like these codify the notion that criminality and deviance are innate characteristics of certain people, which undermines the humanity of entire communities. In doing so, criminalization allows society to rationalize the inhumane treatment of individuals who are controlled by the carceral state. As scholars have pointed out that dehumanization overcomes the normal human revulsion against harming people, criminalization allows certain people to be treated as disposable without threatening “ordinary” citizens. In fact, it makes controlling those people essential to maintaining a sense of law and order.
Once bodies are criminalized, the carceral state uses punishment as the sole tool of accountability. If certain people are predisposed to criminality, as the Law & Order Narrative goes, then retribution, rather than repair, is the goal of punishment — and so we see increasingly punitive methods deployed. Overt examples from the criminal legal system include draconian sentencing laws (e.g. mandatory minimums, three-strikes penalties, sentence enhancements, capital punishment, 85% crimes, LWOP, etc.), sanctions for parole and probation violations, financial penalties, failure to pay warrants, sentencing disparities, and so on. Less visible practices normalize criminalization in our culture: court fines and fees, sweeps of homeless encampments, anti-sex work laws, anti-immigrant policies, pre-trial risk assessments, Section 8 restrictions, and other examples that assume guilt based on identity or social status.
Criminalization, like all aspects of the carceral state, has a significant racial dimension: research has demonstrated a strong Black-crime association in the American psyche, based on stereotypes of Black people as animalistic, deviant, and “bad,” as Terence Crutcher was labeled. This bias that has outsize influence on the ways Black people are targeted by the criminal legal system. As Stanford psychology professor and MacArthur “genius” Dr. Jennifer Eberhardt says in her book Biased: Uncovering the Hidden Prejudice That Shapes What We See, Think, and Do,
“It’s implausible to believe that officers—or anyone else—can be immersed in an environment that repetitively exposes them the to the categorical pairings of blacks with crime and not have that affect how they think, feel or behave. … Because blackness is both statistically and stereotypically intertwined with crime, race and reflexively be treated as a visible marker of criminality.”
As a result, Black bodies are criminalized at much higher rates.
Heightened criminalization of certain communities justifies greater scrutiny, which enables the carceral state to enter and monitor the private lives of ordinary people. While the surveillance infrastructure exists inside the overt carceral system, it also bookends it; from hyper-policed neighborhoods and mandatory home visits to post-incarceration monitoring and felony checkboxes, this submerged “peak” of the iceberg operates most insidiously in community members’ daily lives. It creates an environment of fear and anxiety, where residents live with persistent low-level trauma due to the constant threat of punishment.
Immigrant and Muslim communities experience additional forms of government surveillance, via wiretapping, community infiltrators, social media monitoring, and mandatory registration. For other BIPOC people, disabled and poor people, and other marginalized community members who have higher interactions with the state due to their accessing public services, a regime of strict rules and discipline enable even further scrutiny, creating opportunities to ensnare individuals into the criminal legal system. Data sharing between social service institutions also threatens freedom and privacy and increases the risk of system involvement.
After release from prison, formerly incarcerated individuals continue to be criminalized as the surveillance state extends punishment through probation and parole, housing and employment applications, and social stigma and isolation. As Mary King of the Michigan Center for Youth Justice explains.
“Parolees have to follow certain conditions in order to keep out of trouble. And what’s very disturbing is how many of those conditions are not about committing another crime. So they’re being held accountable for behaviors and those behaviors become criminalized even though the behaviors themselves are not a crime.”
The third “peak” of the iceberg, confinement, is a tool of the carceral state the functions to maintain a strict social hierarchy by controlling free movement. The Law & Order Narrative holds that bodily autonomy and freedom of movement are only for “good” people deserving of protection. All others must be restricted geographically, economically, and bodily in service of maintaining the social order.
Confinement reproduces oppression by limiting access to vital resources and creating artificial barriers to opportunity and human connection. Beyond jails and prisons, the carceral state also confines bodies through segregation, threats of violence, the built environment, disparate public investments, and other structural methods of control.
The cyclical nature of the carceral state becomes visible after understanding the third peak: restricting people from freedom of movement enables the state and other powerful agents to control the distribution of, and put conditions on accessing, resources. This once again opens Black, brown, and poor people to greater surveillance, while also relegating them to the margins of society. Confinement also hides their oppression from the rest of society, rendering these structural conditions invisible and making their resistance appear irrational and disproportionate. As the assumptions of egalitarian meritocracy are held in place, the disparate outcomes in these communities are attributed to character flaws, lack of industriousness, or internal deficiencies. Thus criminalization is one again justified, and measures like school discipline and hyper-policing appear to be reasonable solutions to their inherent criminality.
Because law enforcement is the front door of the formal criminal legal system, it serves as the gateway to mass incarceration. Thus the reduction of policing is critical to any reform strategy. The violence of Tulsa law enforcement has been well documented in recent years, with the killings of Eric Harris, Terence Crutcher, Joshua Barré, and many others gaining national attention and leading to an unprecedented reckoning in the city. In their 2019 report, Human Rights Watch (HRW) conducted an exhaustive analysis of police practices and collected stories from North Tulsans, who live in the city’s predominantly Black neighborhoods, of unjust, arbitrary, and violent run-ins with the Tulsa Police Department (aka TPD). HRW mapped several law enforcement practices to demonstrate the staggeringly disproportionate rates of policing in Black neighborhoods, from per-capita arrests to length of traffic stops to warrant-only stops. While TPD argues that they only respond to calls rather than target and occupy specific neighborhoods, these maps belie their claims. If officers always fish in the same pond, they will find the same fish time and time again.
Today’s hyper-policing echoes Tulsa’s long history of white supremacy; Dr. Tiffany Crutcher speaks of the eerie comparisons between the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre and the 2016 killing of her twin brother Terence. The Massacre was instigated by a lie from a white woman who claimed she was attacked by a Black man. Betty Shelby, a white female police officer, claimed that she feared for her life — despite Terence’s hands being in the air — thus justifying his execution. Black Wall Street was burned to the ground by a white mob who believed Black people did not deserve to lift themselves out of the economic legacy of enslavement. Terence Crutcher was murdered on a North Tulsa street on his way home from enrolling at Tulsa Community College, where President Dr. Leigh Goodson said he “had openly expressed to our advisement staff and to others his desire to be successful in college.”
The police departments we take for granted today trace their origins to slave patrols: white people deputized to capture runaway enslaved Black people to return what was considered property back to their “rightful owners.” Given the institution’s roots in upholding slavery, regulating property ownership and the labor of the slave class, the harmful impact of law enforcement on communities of color is unsurprising — this is who the police have always been. Their very presence in a community exacerbates tensions and generates violence.
As the Oklahoma legislature continues to starve public services, increasing demands on the private sector have overburdened providers fulfilling public needs. Most notable is the state’s dismal investment in mental health; Oklahoma ranks 46th in per-capita State Mental Health Agency expenditures and 39th in access to mental health care. The result is that people experiencing crisis are routinely routed into the carceral state rather than mental health services; in Tulsa, the sheriff has called the county jail “one of our state’s largest mental health facilities.” In Oklahoma City, mental health calls to police have far outpaced their capacity and continue to rise. But using police to respond to mental health calls is inherently ableist, based on the harmful stereotype that people with mental illness are prone to violence and criminal activity. Law enforcement officers do not have the training to provide the appropriate support — in fact, the presence of police frequently escalates the situation, too often resulting in use of deadly force, especially against Black men. These police killings in turn cause a “mental health spillover” in Black communities, generating more crises and creating a devastating cycle of trauma and violence.
Bennie Edwards, a Black man experiencing homelessness in Oklahoma City, was well-known as “The Flower Man” because he was a fixture selling street flowers across the city. On December 11, 2020, multiple squad cars, in response to a disturbance call, descended on a strip mall where he was selling flowers. OKCPD is the second deadliest police force in the United States, known for failing to hold officers accountable for excessive force and refusing victims’ families’ requests for bodycam footage. Bennie Edwards’ story is different; his encounter was caught on video by witnesses. Bennie lived with mental illness and was in the middle of a psychological crisis when OKCPD arrived. The officers — all untrained in crisis intervention — used pepper spray and a taser (“the officers did everything they could to de-escalate the situation,” Capt. Dan Stewart later stated) before opening fire as Bennie ran away from them. He was pronounced dead at the scene.
This tragedy illustrates the many failures of law enforcement responding to crises and the urgent need for alternatives to police. Just six months earlier, after hearing public comments featuring both racial slurs and calls for defunding the police, OKC City Councilors approved a $226 million police department budget despite city funds depleted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Had a fraction of that budget been allocated to an independent mental health response team staffed by professionals equipped with training rather than a gun, Bennie Edwards might still be alive. His story is a devastating demonstration of the necessity of building something different, something better, that values human life and dignity. His story speaks to the urgency of this moment — people’s lives depend on it.
The role that the carceral state plays in schools is no less destructive. Criminalization begins in childhood, when poor and BIPOC youths’ behaviors are subject to greater surveillance and punishment in school and in public, creating a push-out effect that drives Black children away from education and in turn increasing their likelihood of interaction with the criminal legal system. The concept of “school-to-prison pipeline” describes the connection between punitive disciplinary policies and law enforcement in schools that funnels students into the prison system. The increasing presence of police officers on campuses serves to corral students of color into the juvenile and adult legal systems without any attendant increase in school safety. Not only is this process incredibly expensive for districts, but it also has negative effects on students’ mindsets and their ability to learn, especially among students of color.
The presence of law enforcement in schools is justified by cultural assumptions about children of color, as the black-crime association also surfaces in the classroom for young Black boys and girls. Black boys and girls experience hypersexualization and adultification, denying them the innocence of youth that we allow other children because of prevailing stereotypes. This “naughty by nature“ narrative is detrimental to a student’s development. Children of color are seen not as impressionable students eager to learn and worth investing in, but as soon-to-be criminals who need to be tightly controlled rather than educated. Their potential is only for criminality and deviance, not academic and professional achievement.
Black parents are keenly aware of the impact of these stereotypes on their children; parent Kandy Whitley-White shared, “My ZIP code would imply my son belongs in the back of a police car not just a teenager riding a bike around the neighborhood.” This is not hyperbole. On June 4, 2020, two Black boys were walking on a North Tulsa street when police officers from TPD’s gang unit aggressively pulled them aside and forced one to the ground. Bodycam footage captured the horrific encounter, where both teens were handcuffed. The boys repeatedly asked why they were being followed and why they were being detained. One boy, who was eventually arrested, asked several times for his mother to be called and was clearly having a trauma response of someone being hunted: “You want to see me in jail or dead.” An adult bystander questioned the police why they were assaulting the boys. A witness video showed an officer kicking one of the boys inside the squad car, and then pulling him out and throwing him to the ground. The other boy calmly but unsuccessfully attempted to de-escalate the officers, finally telling the other boy, his cousin, that “it’s not worth it,” resigning himself to the recognition that demanding justice would result in violent consequences. The police officers charged the boy with jaywalking — on a street with no sidewalks and no visible traffic — assault and battery of a police officer, and resisting arrest. The underlying cultural biases about Black children, the Black-crime association, and the ever-present hyper-policing of North Tulsa created a perfect storm ending in the violence against these Black boys.
Beyond obvious forms of carcerality in schools lies the more mundane role educators play in policing the behavior of students. Many teachers who lead classrooms in poor Black and brown neighborhoods are inexperienced or low-quality educators with neither the training nor the cultural competency to understand external factors that influence students’ behavior and circumstances. Further, schools in poor, hyper-policed, under-resourced communities not only funnel children into the prison industrial complex but have become sites of incarceration themselves. Children are taught to be orderly, stand in single file lines, dress identically, wait for the bell to ring, listen to the intercom, not speak unless spoken to, and conform to strict behavioral expectations that emphasize “grit” and “character development” (as if the problems students face result from insufficient resilience or defective character). Breaking any of these rigid rules results in swift punishment: social penalties, confinement and isolation from peers, interrogation by school resource officers, even referrals to law enforcement. The parallels to prison culture reveal how school buildings serve as a locus of the carceral state through criminalization, surveillance, and confinement. And now, with the ubiquity of virtual learning resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, this carceral site has extended into children’s homes, with webcams facilitating surveillance and punishment by teachers.
The juvenile justice system is often overlooked by reform advocates due to assumptions that services are rehabilitative, when they habitually merely serve to punish both children and families (the juvenile court’s jurisdiction extends to the entire family, so it has authority to issue orders to parents, grandparents, other children in the home). Many children are forced into the juvenile system by necessity, to access vital mental health and other support services that are unavailable to youth who are not system-involved.
The foster care system also functions as part of the carceral state: social workers serve as an access point for the state to enter children’s homes, which then allows them to scrutinize and criminalize the entire household: “We remove kids from homes because those homes are dirty. We don’t send people into those homes to help clean them because we view not cleaning your house as a moral failing,” says advocate Vic Wiener.
Coupled with schools, these interconnected state institutions reinforce one another to drive families into carceral involvement with potential economic consequences. Wiener explains, “Once children are involved in [the justice or foster] system, they’re much more likely to be involved in the other one, because you have state surveillance of the family. Other children in home may be removed. You might have a child adjudicated delinquent for a sex offense, and they’re not allowed back in their home because they have a younger sibling — and then the family has to decide, ‘Do I kick my kid out of the house? Does our family split up?’”
The juvenile system also relies heavily on administrative discretion, where the “naughty by nature” bias can easily creep in. When a child is referred to Office of Juvenile Affairs (OJA), a probation officer conducts a risks assessment of “criminogenic factors” (like living in North Tulsa) to determine whether to recommend diversion or referral to the DA’s office. The District Attorney (DA) can then dismiss, file in juvenile court, or waive the young person (as young as 13, depending on the charge) into adult court. Weiner points out that each moment of discretion is affected by prevailing biases against children of color: “What we see with youth of color, specifically Black youth, is a very disproportionate number being referred to the DA’s office, waived into adult court, and sentenced to serve in adult prison.”
The data bears this out. OJA produces a relative rate index (RRI) to measure the rate at which children of color interact with the juvenile justice system relative to their white counterparts. The data is presented as a ratio of 1, so numbers above 1 indicate that an interaction happens at higher rates for children of color than white children, and numbers below 1 indicate lower incidences for children of color than white children. In Oklahoma, Black children are arrested almost three times more often than white children, and Indigenous children nearly twice as often. Black, Latinx, and Indigenous youth receive diversion and probation less often than white youth, and their cases result in detention and confinement more often than white youth.
While disparities exist across the system, the starkest inequality occurs at arrest and sentencing. This indicates two key leverage points: police and judges. Given the downstream disparities throughout the system, the data underscores the importance of reducing youth contact with law enforcement, including police and school resource officers.
The carceral state directly impacts economic mobility within BIPOC communities, particularly in Black neighborhoods. The system extracts wealth from communities by removing individuals through incarceration, typically during their most productive years (when they might otherwise get educational credentials, enter the workforce, and advance in their careers) and using their labor in prisons. Fees and fines also trap poor Tulsans in a cycle of debt and criminalization. In their report, Human Rights Watch linked hyper-policing directly to economic predation:
“Aggressive enforcement often leads to debt. People arrested or cited for violations…are assessed a vast array of fees, fines, and costs by the courts that process their cases. This debt, weighing disproportionately on the poorest segment of society, is enforced aggressively by Tulsa Police, who regularly arrest people on warrants for failure to pay debt owed as a result of past violations including for minor offenses. The debt strips money and assets from poor communities, trapping people in a cycle of arrest, jail, debt, warrant, arrest, jail, and further debt.
This aggressive policing and debt enforcement occur in the most poverty-stricken parts of Tulsa, where there is far less business development, higher unemployment, poorer educational outcomes, lower life expectancy, and worse overall health among its residents than in wealthier parts of the city. This contributes to desperation and need that lead to more crime. Such crime in turn becomes the rationale for more aggressive policing, which increases poverty that leads to more crime.”
The structural violence produced by the carceral system in BIPOC communities also hinders economic growth. It hinders people’s freedom by imprisoning them, threatens state violence by occupying neighborhoods with police, and fails to adequately protect people of color’s safety and freedom. Economist Dr. Lisa Cook found that racial violence directly affected innovation in Black communities, specifically citing the 1921 Massacre as the cause of a massive reduction in Black patent applications for nearly a generation. As she told Planet Money,
“Tulsa demonstrated that no one would help them — no one. The local government failed. The state government failed. The U.S. government failed. At every single level, nobody had their backs. They were all afraid. You don’t feel safe anywhere. But also, my livelihood might be in jeopardy. I may never be able to make a living doing the things I’m doing. So that’s why if I’m a black inventor in another city, why would I ever invent anything if I thought the intellectual property was never going to be defended? If the Black Wall Street that everybody knew about, if it weren’t protected, why would I be protected?"
The condition of BIPOC economic entrapment is most effectively measured by the racial wealth gap: a measure of household net worth by race and ethnicity. Wealth tells a more accurate picture of economic status than income because it reflects the total assets an individual possesses rather than what they earn in a year. Although recent Oklahoma racial wealth gap data is not readily available, Prosperity Now used the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2016 Survey of Income and Program Participation to analyze households with zero net worth, as well as liquid asset poverty (the percentage of households without sufficient liquid assets to subsist at the poverty level for three months in the absence of income), showing significant disparities by race.
Oklahoma Policy Institute’s 2012 report on the state’s racial wealth gap, "Closing the Opportunity Gap: Building Equity in Oklahoma," outlines three types of assets that contribute to wealth accumulation:
like health, education, and transportation serve as prerequisites to learning and earning.
(namely employment and income) earn an individual capital through their labor.
like inheritances, savings and investments, and property ownership generate wealth without requiring labor.
Structural and historic barriers result in racial disparities at all three levels. Health, educational, and infrastructural inequities threaten foundational assets, preventing access to employment opportunities. Employment, workplace, and wage discrimination inhibit equal wealth building through the generative assets of work and income. And generations of public policy like slavery, Jim Crow laws, immigration prohibitions, the 1935 Social Security Act, the G.I. bill, redlining, welfare asset limits, predatory lending, and mass incarceration have systematically accrued regenerative wealth away from families of color to white households.
In Oklahoma, the economic entrapment in communities of color is evident in the Distressed Communities Index, which aggregates several factors: high school diploma completion, poverty rate, adults not working, housing vacancy rate, median household income, change in employment and change in establishments. Only two of the dozen “Distressed” ZIP codes were majority white areas, and just one of the ZIP codes at the other tiers was majority people of color.
Getting ensnared in the carceral state is a dangerous and expensive proposition. The three tentacles of criminalization, surveillance, and confinement conspire to trap Black, brown, and poor Oklahomans into a cycle of generational poverty where their wealth is preempted, extracted, and destroyed through the criminal legal system. Without building collective power to determine their own futures, these families will remain victims of systems designed to oppress them.
Still, there are genuine pockets of grassroots efforts that show significant promise as building blocks for movement building. Existing efforts in Tulsa include grassroots groups, advocacy organizations, media channels focused on BIPOC issues, and cultural organizers that advance messaging and creative work.
Although Tulsa has experienced historical and structural obstacles to building community power, these initiatives demonstrate that many building blocks for creating a durable movement infrastructure do exist. Terence Crutcher Foundation is well-positioned to leverage these assets and use our credibility to coalesce them around a common goal.
The purpose of community organizing is to build collective power to make change. Organized power ensures that community members can practice self-determination over matters that impact them, they have a seat at the decision-making tables that govern them, and they are equipped to activate around opportunities and crises when necessary. Organizing requires building infrastructure, developing knowledge and skills, and growing capacity. This will empower communities to develop their own strategies for justice and economic mobility in Oklahoma.
Traditionally, social movements build over time as a community’s needs evolve, relationships and trust develop, leaders rotate, and new strategies emerge. Because of Oklahoma’s history, much of this work is nascent and needs sustained investment and careful, community-led cultivation to turn into a durable movement ecosystem. Building a new organizing apparatus means designing and establishing several foundational functions, while forging relationships and developing shared values and approaches to communication, decision-making, and conflict. And it will necessitate a lot of healing work; a combination of internalized oppression within marginalized communities and the demoralizing cycle of mobilizing has left deep intra- and inter-community wounds that require nurturing and repair. Further, though activism is life-giving, empowering work, it can also be draining; individuals are deeply impacted by social problems and acting from a place of trauma.
A strong organizing ecosystem comprises multiple connected parts that move both independently and in collaboration with one another. We think of a well-organized community as a system of hubs and spokes; some formations act as hubs where information, knowledge, and expertise are created and shared while others occupy specialized roles that serve specific functions. Hubs also seed and connect people, ideas, strategies, and initiatives (spokes) where appropriate.
This model is meant to be illustrative rather than prescriptive; not every movement includes every role, and some are evergreen while others are ad hoc. Most importantly, the ecosystem has the flexibility to operate organically, adapting to the needs of the moment. Author and activist adrienne maree brown calls this emergent strategy: movements that value small scale growth and change, adapt to new circumstances, are comfortable with nonlinear growth and transformation, experience conflict as generative, practice mutual accountability, see change as opportunity, and see themselves as part of the natural world.
Pulling together the vision, design, and implementation of this organizing infrastructure requires a strong community-led organization to convene, guide, and coordinate efforts across the community. This is the key to galvanizing our existing efforts around criminal justice: enabling risk-taking and innovation by creating space for experimentation and learning while providing durable, long-term organizing infrastructure. The purpose would be to connect institutions and marginalized communities, train advocates on accountable movement-building, and demonstrate positive results. This will create the conditions to speak important truths and be out front, and provide institutions and leaders the cover and permission to follow once the trail has already been blazed.
In support of this goal, Terence Crutcher Foundation will expand our staff and operational capacity to enable TCF to serve as the backbone of local movement work. This growth will enable us to grow leaders and organizers, sharpen the community’s analysis for identifying appropriate solutions, and incubate new movements. The organizing arm of TCF will leverage TCF’s national connections for local capacity building and lending our in-house expertise and leadership to support the grassroots in Tulsa.
A well-organized community can determine their own definition of community safety, decide what level and type of policing they want in their neighborhoods, and collectively hold TPD accountable to those expectations. They can renegotiate power dynamics in the legal system through participatory defense, a model for people facing charges, their families, and communities to impact the outcomes of cases and transform the landscape of power in the court system. They can coordinate community defense response networks to defend their neighbors from ICE raids and predatory policing. They can identify candidates to represent them who share their values rather than those of wealthy outside interests. They can utilize base-building to boost their advocacy power to engage in policy-making processes alongside the rest of Tulsa. They can cultivate a pipeline of leaders from their own communities to serve on the City of Tulsa’s authorities, boards, and commissions and at other seats of power. They can keep themselves and one another informed well in advance about where and how decisions affecting them get made, ensuring their interests are represented throughout the process rather than after plans have already been made.
Building a durable organizing apparatus will enable the communities hardest hit by the carceral state to develop their own solutions to the challenges they’re facing in their neighborhoods. The movement infrastructure will create pathways to community autonomy; the complementary strategy is ensuring well-meaning partners in that work follow their lead and align with their values.
Safe neighborhoods are sanctuaries from state and interpersonal violence. Modeled on Critical Resistance’s Harm Free Zones, safe neighborhoods “build community autonomy and self-determination in the struggle to abolish the prison industrial complex, and to transform our ways of treating each other, and is inseparable from the process of community building.” In safe neighborhoods, residents share in the responsibility to protect one another without relying on the carceral state. These are not conflict-free utopias, but places where residents practice community accountability and transformative justice, relying on themselves and intra-community assets to address harm. Safe neighborhoods are the result of building trust, developing shared norms and values, cultivating leaders, and establishing collective processes. Fueled by sustained effort, they require shared community investment, ongoing dialogue, and vision and hope.
Successful safe neighborhoods reduce trauma and violence and increase repair and healing. Processes of intervention, reparation, prevention, and transformation allow community members to address acts of harm by holding actors accountable without creating further harm through retributive punishment. Scholar Erica R. Meiners shares an example of experimenting with transformative justice in For the Children? Protecting Innocence in a Carceral State:
Several years ago, my household decided that we would no longer be silent witnesses to an ongoing “domestic disturbance.” For two summers, we watched the police roll up to the house two doors south of our building to respond to verbal and sometimes physical altercations between a heterosexual couple with alcohol and drug problems. Like everyone else on the block, we sat in our backyard and ignored their fights. No one wanted to get involved. It was a private matter. They were always high or drunk, and clearly crazy. Hell, we might have gotten hurt ourselves. After enough yelling, someone on the block might finally call the police, and one or both people might be picked up, but they would return days later.
After deciding not to look away, my household strategized and formulated a loose plan that was neither radical nor labor-intensive. We introduced ourselves to this couple who lived two doors south and made a point to have repeated conversations about mundane topics in moments when no one appeared in crisis or high or drunk. We talked about the weather, food, life. We found out that one of them had chronic debilitating health problems. We talked to other neighbors about what was going on and about how to reduce the police presence, which no one in the neighborhood wanted. We moved from hanging out in the backyard to also sitting on our front stoop and talking to the people that walked by.
When we heard yelling and what might be violence, at least two of us walked over and said, “Hi. Is everyone okay?” Our actions changed the neighborhood in small ways. People on the block talked to one another more. We shared information about other issues on our block: elderly neighbors that needed help, annoying dog owners that did not pick up dog poo, bad landlords. One of the two individuals moved away for a spell, and on their return it was quieter. The police visits were reduced to a trickle. Perhaps the violence was driven inside, into the basement or behind locked doors and windows. Perhaps our friendliness was interpreted as social shaming. Perhaps we simply masked the problem. Yet this experience did give us a new way of thinking about our block, about the work of community, the relationships between neighbors, and the idea that a bystander is never neutral but rather plays an integral role.
Safe schools prioritize relationships between students, parents, teachers, and administrators; incorporate transformative processes for accountability; and cut ties entirely with the institution of policing. Safety in schools does not come by way of metal detectors and surveillance cameras, but rather through a crucial paradigm shift of upholding care for students’ well-being above all else.
As long as teachers and school administrators, district policymakers, and state education boards hold the “naughty by nature” narrative of students of color in under-resourced neighborhoods, student outcomes will continue to be depleted. Research shows that students who drop out of high school are 3.5 times as likely to be incarcerated at some point in their life. Dropout rates have direct ties to students’ ability to succeed as early as third and fourth grade; for this reason, these changes must happen on a district scale for the entire K-12 experience. Anti-oppressive frameworks enable students to confront the realities of systemic oppression that they navigate daily, and these frameworks benefit all students. In the same regard, culturally relevant teaching is key to shift the status quo of classroom environments today that do not work for the majority of students. Most teachers value their role as molders of minds, and many wish to avoid pushing their students into the beast of the prison industrial complex. This process of constant learning about best approaches within the classroom will be critical to ending the school-to-prison pipeline.
Chicago’s Yes2Counselors campaign advocated for choosing counselors over cops as pivotal to dismantling the carceral apparatus in schools. In one case study, North Lawndale College Prep, an urban Chicago high school with a predominantly Black student body, exemplified the virtue of meeting students’ needs and centering their social-emotional intelligence more than test scores. The school neither suspends students for minor offenses like dress code violations or cursing at teachers nor uses metal detectors or security cameras. “There’s a peace dividend,” explained school president John Horan, for choosing not to employ school police officers. “If you teach faculty and kids how to nonviolently resolve conflict, you’ll have a much better school culturally.” Instead, through Kingian nonviolence, hands-on counselors, restorative justice circles, and a welcoming built environment, the school created a culture that nurtured schools while providing a safe educational environment boasting hundreds of uninterrupted days of peace each year.
Expulsion rates are disproportionately enforced on BIPOC students, not because students of color are more deviant than their white counterparts, but because they are surveilled with much higher scrutiny. Expulsion in elementary and middle school should be eliminated and only used in high school after every other option has been exhausted. These options should include transformative practices facilitated by counselors, teachers, and students alike.
Community safety rejects conventional ideas of crime and punishment and introduces alternatives: neighborhoods and schools that truly protect the physical and mental health of all Oklahomans. The engine behind community safety efforts are community members themselves, organized by the movement apparatus created and fueled by TCF’s organizing arm. In order to make space for imagining these alternatives, we must uproot the Law & Order Narrative and embed new frameworks of safety and accountability.
We define safety as living free from harm and violence, where people’s basic needs are met and they have the autonomy to practice self-determination. Too often, public safety relies entirely on law enforcement, and solutions to protect communities become reduced to incremental changes to policing. Community policing, the solution most frequently cited as a solution to racially disparate policing, only serves to rebrand harmful practices under the guise of reform. One community member, a Black man who lives in North Tulsa, shared his concerns that tactics like community policing, diversifying the police force, and other reforms are just about optics to quell critique, rather than serving BIPOC communities:
“The chief we have now looks like us, but he is one of them before he is one of us. He doesn’t want to rock the boat. The thing is, will they ever give us what we need? The philosophy in this city’s government is to keep us in line. Spoon feed us enough to make us think they want to do better. Our strategy has to be: we are our own best hope in all we do, along with God’s help.”
The institution of policing is an inherently violent one. Generational experiences of police terror have embedded rational distrust into the psyches of Black and brown communities, and this psychological reality cannot be undone through “friendlier” or more accessible cops. The police serve as a militarized force to uphold the social order. Whether they ride bikes or drive squad cards, wear uniforms or polos, cruise by children, or play basketball with them, they are fundamentally an occupying force in poor communities of color.
Narrative change work is a long-term cultural project that helps close the gap between the public’s understanding of a social issue and the knowledge of people with lived experience and expertise. The narrative change process requires identifying a community’s dominant values, driving norms and mental models, and rhetorical devices that inform public opinion about public policy; developing alternate frames, values-driven narratives, and supporting communications assets; and creating strategies to seed these new ideas across a particular society.
For TCF, this work will be specific to the ways Oklahomans think and talk about crime, criminality, justice, and public policy. Guided by leading national experts on social justice and narrative change, we will engage in the longitudinal work that will shape Oklahoma’s discourse around justice and economic mobility.
The Narrative Initiative’s Four Baskets model outlines the process of narrative change and identifies the specific “capacities needed to turn narrative change ideas into high-functioning narrative change projects. … A successful narrative change project will draw upon capacities, processes and resources held in each of the Four Baskets.”
Create: Generating a new narrative and articulating the dominant existing one.
Translate: Helping many voices hold the narrative, so it is legible in many places and to many audiences.
Deploy: Measuring impact within the larger landscape, learning what works, and understanding where to improve.
Observe together: Moving the new narrative in public and striving for wide adoption.
For the Create basket, we take guidance from Frameworks Institute. In Talking Criminal Justice and Public Safety and Talking Juvenile Justice Reform, they created a message memo by charting patterns of default thinking, identifying gaps in understanding between the public and experts, designing redirections, and describing traps in thinking to avoid.
A similar process for Oklahoma would evaluate the “swamp” of cultural models on crime and safety and define new frames based on relevant values, facts, and metaphors to produce a rigorous set of tools to transform the narrative environment for better public policy.
For the Translate basket, organizers will train and support advocates, coalitions, and allied media to seed these new ideas into their specific contexts. This ensures community voice is centered while also allowing for adaptation in different environments.
In the Deploy basket, organizations, coalitions, and individuals integrate new messaging (both shared assets and those adjusted for their unique identities) into their platforms.
Finally, Observing together means gauging the impact of the strategy and its efficacy at changing the discourse. Has the media employed the new frames? Have policymakers observed and responded to a shift in public sentiment? What adjustments should be made to support greater message saturation?
Narrative change is slow, collective work, but it is crucial to creating the conditions for the necessary community and policy changes to happen.
Once the community power, community safety, and narrative change pillars are engaged, organizers, advocates, and leaders can effectively collaborate on advancing a shared policy agenda. Our community conversations surfaced many short- and long-term policy priorities for improving justice and economic mobility and realizing our generational vision. These are organized into local, state, and federal policy changes; some are more immediate while others will likely take years of organizing to bring to fruition. They are captured here to reflect the community’s hopes for the future.
Oklahoma’s unenviable role as one of the world’s top incarcerators is no accident. It is the natural result of an aggressively punitive cultural environment that props up the carceral state based on the flawed belief that we can punish (or social service) our way out of harm.
There is another way. We can build a different kind of community where accountability looks like restoration and healing, power is held (and shared) by the people, and Oklahomans think and talk about safety in expansive ways. With a strong backbone organization in Terence Crutcher Foundation, Tulsa can begin to form a social change infrastructure that centers the voices of people economically impacted by the criminal legal system. Catalytic investment will enable TCF to expand our staff and lead the charge for justice and liberation in Tulsa.
Our next priority will be to design a range of capacity building and technical assistance offerings that will serve as building blocks of a new organizing culture. Our Lead Organizer will coordinate introductory and advanced fellowships that will identify new leaders from within affected communities and equip them with the fundamentals of grassroots organizing. Participants in the introductory fellowship will learn about the principles of community-centric organizing, movement history, canvassing and phone banking, asset and power mapping, and racial equity. Advanced fellows will study cross-issue solidarity and coalition building, digital organizing, transformative justice, and campaign management. These fellowships will produce a significant cohort of local organizers operating from a common framework and shared principles who can apply their skills to advance community safety and lead campaigns for our desired policy changes.
Running parallel to these opportunities, TCF organizers will facilitate popular education opportunities to raise social awareness and build community members’ fluency in power dynamics, the carceral state, and social justice. These will be highly participatory engagements that rely on the wisdom of participants to develop a shared analysis of the problem (rather than unidirectionally imparting knowledge) and design strategies for collective action. These spaces will also be critical to narrative change work, as participants’ experiences will inform how we frame new messages about safety and justice.
The strength of TCF’s backbone infrastructure will enable new leaders to organize on issues relevant to their communities. TCF will provide those burgeoning movements with technical assistance, connecting them with seasoned organizers in other communities where appropriate and incubating them in a co-working space designed to remove barriers to organizing. The benefits of collective space also allow for organizers to cross-pollinate ideas, share strategies, and collaborate on actions. This will keep organizing work integrated to avoid siloing or artificial competition.
As Tulsa invests in new leaders with varying skillsets and roles in the social change ecosystem, new hubs and spokes will emerge. TCF will continue to serve as a backbone organization weaving these efforts together, acting as the connective tissue between and among organizations, strategies, issues, and movements. Terence Crutcher Foundation intends to activate a powerful movement for justice and economic mobility, centering the communities most impacted by prioritizing their leadership, autonomy, and solutions.
Prison Industrial Complex (PIC) abolition is a political vision with the goal of eliminating imprisonment, policing, and surveillance and creating lasting alternatives to punishment and imprisonment. Abolition isn’t just about getting rid of buildings full of cages. It’s also about undoing the society we live in because the PIC both feeds on and maintains oppression and inequalities through punishment, violence, and controls millions of people. Because the PIC is not an isolated system, abolition is a broad strategy. An abolitionist vision means that we must build models today that can represent how we want to live in the future. It means developing practical strategies for taking small steps that move us toward making our dreams real and that lead us all to believe that things really could be different. It means living this vision in our daily lives.Abolition is both a practical organizing tool and a long-term goal.
— Critical Resistance
Carceral Feminism describes an approach that sees increased policing, prosecution, and imprisonment as the primary solution to violence against women. This stance does not acknowledge that police are often purveyors of violence and that prisons are always sites of violence. Carceral feminism ignores the ways in which race, class, gender identity, and immigration status leave certain women more vulnerable to violence and that greater criminalization often places these same women at risk of state violence.
— Victoria Law
Community accountability is a community-based strategy, rather than a police/prison-based strategy, to address violence within our communities. It is a process in which a community — a group of friends, a family, a church, a workplace, an apartment complex, a neighborhood, etc. — work together to do the following things:
1. Create and affirm values & practices that resist abuse and oppression and encourage safety, support, and accountability.
2. Develop sustainable strategies to address community members’ abusive behavior, creating a process for them to account for their actions and transform their behavior.
3. Commit to ongoing development of all members of the community, and the community itself, to transform the political conditions that reinforce oppression and violence.
4. Provide safety & support to community members who are violently targeted that respects their self-determination.
Community organizing is a democratic strategy used by social movements, labor unions, under-represented communities, and marginalized groups to gain rights, win collective political power, and create positive change. While there are many different types of online and offline organizing, the main job of an organizer is to create unity (and solidarity), then help their community work together to solve problems and reach shared goals.
Community safety is a reimagination of safety free from the police or other state institutions that too often inflict more violence when responding to communal needs. Community safety posits that well-resourced communities, where all residents’ necessities are met, have within them the tools needed to build accountable communities that respond to violence and harm internally, with strategies that do not punish but provide what is necessary to ensure the person who has caused harm is held accountable and the person who has been harmed is safe and able to heal. These strategies include restorative and transformative justice, community accountability, conflict transformation, bystander intervention, violence interruption, and more.
Hyper-policing outlines the predatory presence of law enforcement in criminalized communities as a tool of surveillance. Rather than taking issue with the relative amount or level of violence of policing (i.e. over-policing), hyper-policing recognizes policing as the problem itself: a tool of social control, by which Black people, poor people, queer and trans people are meant to be subservient. Hyper-policing gets to the root of policing as a tool of forced occupation in communities and as a source of terror in those communities.
In mutual-aid systems, people work cooperatively to meet the needs of everyone in the community. It’s different from charity, which features a one-way relationship between an organization and recipients, and often responds to the effects of inequality but not its causes. Mutual aid is an act of solidarity that builds sustained networks between neighbors. As prison abolitionist Mariame Kaba explained to the New Yorker: “It’s not community service — you’re not doing service for service’s sake. You’re trying to address real material needs.”
— Amanda Arnold
A disturbing national trend wherein children are funneled out of public schools and into the juvenile and criminal justice systems. Many of these children have learning disabilities or histories of poverty, abuse, or neglect, and would benefit from additional educational and counseling services. Instead, they are isolated, punished, and pushed out.
Transformative Justice (TJ) is a political framework and approach for responding to violence, harm, and abuse. At its most basic, it seeks to respond to violence without creating more violence and/or engaging in harm reduction to lessen the violence. TJ can be thought of as a way of “making things right,” getting in “right relation,” or creating justice together. Transformative justice responses and interventions:
1. Do not rely on the state (e.g. police, prisons, the criminal legal system, I.C.E., foster care system (though some TJ responses do rely on or incorporate social services like counseling)
2. Do not reinforce or perpetuate violence such as oppressive norms or vigilantism
3. Most importantly, actively cultivate the things we know prevent violence such as healing, accountability, resilience, and safety for all involved.
— Mia Mingus
These Oklahoma organizations operate primarily outside of Tulsa and will be Terence Crutcher Foundation’s key partners in state-wide efforts for justice and economic mobility.
Black Lives Matter OKC Chapter
Foundation for Liberating Minds
Justice for Julius
Norman Collective for Racial Justice
OKC Artists for Justice
Oklahoma Progress Now
Oklahomans for Criminal Justice Reform
Restorative Justice Institute of Oklahoma
These organizations operate in other communities or nationally doing work similar to what we have outlined in this report, and will serve as inspiration, thought partners, experts, and allies.
#8ToAbolition: The abolitionist response to the problematic #8CantWait campaign.
Bay Area Transformative Justice Collective: Radical disability and transformative justice work in the Bay Area.
Black and Pink: Prison abolitionist organization supporting LGBTQ and HIV-positive prisoners through a pen pal program, a prisoner-written newspaper, court accompaniment, and know-your-rights training.
Black Visions Collective & Reclaim the Block: Achieved big reforms in Minnesota after the killing of George Floyd.
Center for Political Education
Common Justice: NYC-based restorative justice group working with people who have committed violent acts.
Critical Resistance: The leading grassroots organization advocating for prison industrial complex abolition.
Drug Policy Alliance & Drug Policy Action: National organization advocating for decriminalizing drug use.
JusticeLA coalition: Organizers in Los Angeles who successfully pushed LA County to stop construction of a new jail and won
Measure J, which mandated a percentage of the budget go to community investment.
Mississippi Prison Reform Coalition: Prison abolition group advocating to close MS prisons due to conditions of overcrowding, filth, medical neglect, suicides and more.
People’s Advocacy Institute: A resource and training incubator for transformative justice in the South.
Project Nia: Working to end the incarceration of children and young adults by promoting restorative and transformative justice practices.
Southern Center for Human Rights: Working for equality, dignity, and justice for people impacted by the criminal legal system in the Deep South; curator of
Communities Aver Cages campaign to close an Atlanta city jail.
Survived & Punished: Working to decriminalize surviving gender-based violence and provide safety and care for survivors without relying on the state.
Anti-Oppression Resource and Training Alliance webinar: Love the People #1: Our Homes and Neighborhoods: Interpersonal Violence Intervention
Aspen Institute: Ending This Place of Torment: A Framework for Transforming the Criminal Justice Continuum
Barnard Center for Research on Women: Transformative Justice in the Era of #DefundPolice: Lessons from the Past, Strategizing for the Future
Chain Reaction: Resources on Ending Prisons and Policing
Harvard Law School Criminal Justice Policy Program: Racial Disparities in the Massachusetts Criminal System
Haymarket Books YouTube playlist: Covid-19, Decarceration, and Abolition
Human Rights Watch: A Roadmap for Re-imagining Public Safety in the United States
Institute for Policy Studies: Reimagining School Safety
Institute for the Development of Human Arts: Decarcerating Care: Taking Policing Out of Mental Health Crisis Response
Invisible No More: Police Violence Against Black Women and Women of Color: Organizing resources cited
Know Your IX: Abolition Reading List
Met Cares Foundation: Building Wakanda Community Recommendations
Movement for Black Lives: Vision for Black Lives policy platform
Prison Culture: Thinking Through the End of Police
Rights4Girls: The Sexual Abuse to Prison Pipeline: The Girls’ Story
Study and Struggle: Curriculum
UCLA Luskin Institute on Inequality and Democracy: Divest/Invest: Organizing the Abolition University digital repository
Senator George Young, Oklahoma State District 48
Representative Regina Goodwin, Oklahoma House District 73
Representative Monroe Nichols, Oklahoma House District 72
Chair Councilor Vanessa Hall-Harper, Tulsa City Council District 1
Tulsa City Council Fees & Fines Subcommittee:Councilor Phil Lakin
Councilor Crista Patrick
Councilor Lori Decter Wright
Jaden Janak, African and African Diaspora Studies doctoral student and Donald D. Harrington Graduate Fellow at The University of Texas at Austin; Research Fellow with the Center for the Study of Race and Democracy
Vic Weiner, JD, Skadden Fellow at Juvenile Justice Law Center
Jacob Beaumont, Director of Advocacy and Criminal Justice Reform at Mental Health Association of Oklahoma
Nyesha Barré-Hall, Director/Founder of Joshua Barré Foundation
Chief Egunwale Fagbenro Amusan, Founder of African Ancestral Society
Laura Bellis, Co-Founder of The United League for Social Action
Tyrance Billingsley, Founder of Black Tech Street
Monya Brown Barnett, Facilitator of Carver Middle School Women of Power
Hailey Ferguson, Co-Founder of Aware Tulsa
David Harland, Co-Founder Aware Tulsa
Jabar Shumate, Project Manager at Historic Greenwood Main Street
Charles Wilkes, Crossover Community Impact
Kristi Williams, Greater Tulsa Area African American Affairs Commission
Met Cares Foundation:Greg Robinson, Director of Family and Community Engagement
Raynell Joseph, Manager, Family Organizing
Nate Morris, Manager, Community Organizing
Oklahoma Policy Institute:
Ryan Gentzler, Open Justice Oklahoma Director
Damion Shade, Criminal Justice Analyst
Healthy Minds:Zack Stoycoff, MPA, Executive Director
Brittany Hayes, JD, Policy Director
Dr. Leigh Goodson, President, Tulsa Community College
Eunice Tarver, Provost, Tulsa Community College
Chief Matthias Wicks, Tulsa Public Schools Police Department
Stuart McDaniel, Owner of Guru Stu Communities
Ramal Brown, Not Forgotten Children
EduRec Youth & Family Fun Center:
Charles Harper, Executive Director
Damali Wilson, Executive Director of Operations
Still She Rises:
Haley Horowitz, Director of Impact Litigation
La Mer Kyle-Griffiths, Director of Training and Complex Litigation
Aisha McWeay, Executive Director
Kristina Saleh, Program Director
Founded by Dr. Tiffany Crutcher in 2017, the Terence Crutcher Foundation was formed out of unspeakable tragedy: police brutality and racial injustice led to the murder of Dr. Crutcher’s twin brother Terence Crutcher and the subsequent acquittal of his killer. Our mission is to engage the community, law enforcement, and policymakers to prevent, identify, and address issues of unequal justice in communities of color in Tulsa and around the country. Terence Crutcher Foundation employs policy advocacy, community development and outreach, and rapid response.
Advocacy & Public Policy
Terence Crutcher Foundation has successfully built coalitions at the local, state, and national level to bring attention to inequitable policies and practices within the criminal justice system. Locally, the Foundation has partnered with national advocacy groups, including Human Rights Watch and NAACP Legal Defense Fund, to conduct extensive research and analysis on the disparate policing of Black and brown communities in Tulsa, and led the grassroots push for independent civilian oversight of law enforcement and for community policing. Following the release of the Tulsa Equality Indicators report, which shows continuously widening racial disparities in arrests and use of force by the Tulsa Police Department, the Foundation launched Demanding a JUSTulsa, a grassroots campaign for police transparency and accountability. The campaign successfully advocated for public hearings on inequalities in policing and ensured elected officials included community voice in their meetings.
State advocacy efforts include leading the Black outreach strategy in the Yes on SQ 805 campaign supported by Movement Voter Project, and federally the Foundation has advocated eliminating qualified immunity for law enforcement. TCF has used its reach to build relationships with organizations like ACLU, National Action Network, Equal Justice Initiative, Leadership Conference, and FWD.us to bring national attention, support, and resources to aid in their fight for justice and reform in Oklahoma.
Community Development & Outreach
TCF’s community development and outreach initiatives elevate and empower Tulsa residents, particularly Black men and boys like Terence who are seeking to better themselves and their communities. A collaboration with the new USA BMX headquarters will create a pipeline into sports administration for Black youth, and expanded collaboration with Tulsa Community College, where Terence was a student, will create a bridge from prison to higher education, in addition to TCF’s scholarship program for high school seniors from North Tulsa.
The Tulsa Remembrance Project honors the history of the worst racial tragedy in the United States: the Massacre of Tulsa’s Greenwood District, home of the historic Black Wall Street. TCF in partnership with the Tulsa Community Remembrance Coalition, will build a memorial site honoring the victims of the 1921 Race Massacre.
Each year on the anniversary of Terence’s killing, TCF hosts an annual commemoration of his life and legacy, lifting up changemakers who share the Foundation’s vision for social justice. In 2020, TCF held a Day of Service in support of unhoused Tulsans, providing meals, entertainment, and donations to residents of the City’s new COVID shelter.
TCF has built a strong base of support that quickly mobilizes around emerging community issues. In 2020 the Foundation’s rapid response apparatus galvanized for racial justice alongside many community partners and movements across the country, and successfully secured the end of the Tulsa Police Department’s contract with Live PD. TCF also deployed its forces to conduct COVID relief in Black Tulsa neighborhoods — educating the community about the facts and risks of the coronavirus, feeding and sheltering impacted residents, and ensuring community members knew their rights, protections, and options in the face of the pandemic.
Dr. Tiffany Crutcher, Executive DirectorDr. Tiffany T. Crutcher is a native of Tulsa, Oklahoma, who was thrust into the national spotlight following the death of her twin brother Terence Crutcher, who was shot by a police officer in Tulsa while holding his hands in the air. The murder of her brother compelled Tiffany to speak out against police brutality, particularly the killing of unarmed black men. She has chosen to turn her personal tragedy into an opportunity to bridge fear and mistrust and help transform a justice system that has perpetuated injustice dating back to the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre, when white rioters burned down her great-grandmother’s prosperous community of Black Wall Street. Dr. Crutcher has remained committed to organizing coalitions throughout the country that promote the interests of minority communities. Dr. Crutcher is the founder of the Terence Crutcher Foundation (TCF), whose primary focus is criminal justice and policing reform, providing scholarships to African-American students, community and youth development, and policy advocacy.
Dr. Crutcher is a proud HBCU graduate, earning a BA, MS, and Clinical Doctorate from Langston University and Alabama State University. She is a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc., and a graduate of the James W. Wright Leadership Development Institute in Montgomery, AL. Dr. Crutcher serves on the boards of Oklahomans for Criminal Justice Reform, Met Cares Foundation, Historic Greenwood Main Street, and Justice for Greenwood Foundation. Crutcher is also a member of the national United Justice Coalition and a founding member of Sisters of the Movement.
In 2018, Dr. Crutcher created the Tulsa Community Remembrance Coalition in partnership with Mr. Bryan Stevenson and the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI). EJI is committed to ending mass incarceration and excessive punishment in the United States, challenging racial and economic injustice, and protecting basic human rights in American Society. This vital partnership is committed to changing the narrative about race in America. Under the leadership of Dr. Crutcher, the Tulsa Community Remembrance Coalition will champion a mass effort to memorialize the victims of lynching and racial terror in Oklahoma, and empower citizens to confront issues of racism with the goal of overcoming racial inequality through the building of the city of Tulsa’s first comprehensive memorial and community remembrance work.
Dr. Crutcher is the recipient of many honors including the 2016 Women in Heels Leadership Award, 2017 Cecil St. Clair Service Award, the 2018 Martin Luther King Service Award, and the 2019 Dan Allen Center for Social Justice Local Champion Award. Crutcher was also named a Tulsa People 2020 Tulsan of the Year and recognized by the Oklahoma City Thunder as a Changemaker. The Black Voices for Black Justice Fund, co-chaired by actor Kerry Washington, Wes Moore, Jean Desravines, and Kristen Clarke, awarded Dr. Crutcher a grant in honor of her grassroots work and commitment to social justice in Tulsa. Dr. Crutcher has been featured on 60 Minutes, The View, CNN, MSNBC, The Steve Harvey Morning Show, The Roland Martin Show, Keeping It Real with Al Sharpton, The Karen Hunter Show, Newsweek, TIME Magazine, and many other platforms. Dr. Crutcher has also spoken on multiple panels hosted by national civil rights organizations and has frequented Capitol Hill to push Congress to change laws on police accountability.
Dr. Crutcher has been a mentor to many, empowering men and women to live out their true purpose through personal growth and development, while helping them become successful in business and in life. She is a highly sought after agent of change because of her authentic ability to inspire the masses into action. Dr. Tiffany Crutcher is now known as America’s Sister and lives by the scripture Galatians 6:9: “Let us not grow weary in well doing, for in due season we shall reap if we faint not.”
Mana Tahaie, CONSULTANTMana Tahaie is a consultant and advocate for justice with nearly two decade’s experience organizing for progressive social change in the deep red state of Oklahoma. She specializes in race, gender, immigration and LGBTQ+ issues, with a focus on the intersections. As a consultant in inclusion, equity and social justice, Mana supports social impact organizations in advancing their missions through strategy development, executive coaching, equity training, project management, facilitation, and other services. Her writing and media appearances are available on her website.
In her community work, Mana organizes with the Demanding a JUSTulsa campaign for police reform, chairs a Tulsa Area United Way community investment panel, and serves as a program advisor to the Oklahoma Center for Nonprofits. Mana previously served as convener of Changing the Status Quo and the Tulsa Say No to Hate Coalition, and on the boards of Center for New Community, Crossroads Antiracism Organizing & Training, and ACLU Oklahoma.
From 2008-2017, Mana worked at YWCA Tulsa as the inaugural Director of Racial Justice, later as the Director of Mission Impact and Co-Director of the Inclusion Institute, and finally as interim Director of Immigrant & Refugee Services. Before joining YWCA Tulsa, Mana served as the first Deputy Director of the LGBTQ+ organization Oklahomans for Equality.
The first in her family to be born in the U.S., Mana has lived in Oklahoma most of her life, moving to Tulsa to earn her Bachelor’s in Political Science at TU as a Presidential Scholar. She specializes in the analysis of power, community organizing, organizational and institutional development, and identity-based oppression. She lives in Tulsa with her husband Nick Doctor and their dogs Lily and Dora.
aurelius miles francisco, Policy Fellowaurelius miles francisco is a community organizer, anti-oppressive educator, forever-student, and researcher with a passion for transformative social change and coalition building.
aurelius co-founded and currently serves as the Co-Executive Director for the Foundation for Liberating Minds (FLM), a community nonprofit organization working to dismantle systems of oppression through the empowerment of young people and justice-oriented education. He leads FLM’s Deconstructing Masculinity Program and hosts its DreamRadically Podcast. aurelius currently works as an organizer with Black Lives Matter OKC Chapter and facilitates a group co-hosted by BLM OKC, FLM, and Dream Action Oklahoma: Study and Struggle OKC, an abolitionist study group organizing against incarceration and criminalization. He also serves as a trainer, facilitator, and consultant with the Restorative Justice Institute of Oklahoma.
aurelius is a visionary leader who graduated from the University of Oklahoma in the Spring of 2020 with Bachelor of Arts degrees in African and African American Studies and Political Science as well as minors in International Studies and Women’s and Gender Studies. While attending the University of Oklahoma, aurelius received the Carl Albert Award from the College of Arts and Sciences and was named Outstanding Senior for the University. He was active in several student organizations across campus, served as Co-Director for the Black Emergency Response Team, and was active in multiple roles for the Gender + Equality Center, Vice President of OU’s NAACP chapter, and editor of FORUM Magazine.
aurelius is an avid reader and staunch believer in the goatness of one Lebron James.