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Accusations Fly As City Council Discusses Greenwood Mural

Tulsa City Councilors Connie Dodson (left) and Vanessa Hall-Harper during a meeting of the council's urban and economic development committee held virtually on Aug. 5th.

A committee meeting of the Tulsa City Council held virtually on Wednesday grew tense at times as councilors discussed the "Black Lives Matter" mural on the street surface of a block of North Greenwood Avenue.

Before the meeting of the council's urban and economic development committee meeting, Councilor Vanessa Hall-Harper added an agenda item for a "discussion regarding hazardous conditions and circumstances as related to paintings on public streets, particularly including Greenwood Ave., between Archer St. and I-244." She said she was prompted to do so by seeing people setting up tents in the road, and wanted to avoid an "Occupy Black Wall Street scenario."

Hall-Harper proposed using the Destination Districts program of the Tulsa Planning Office as an avenue by which the unauthorized street painting, which Mayor G.T. Bynum has said must be removed for legal reasons, could remain.

"It's placemaking," Hall-Harper said of the mural. "It is doing what Destination Districts and main street programs are designed to do."

Hall-Harper said the message is an important one for a city with a well-documented history of racism, and "significant disparity" that continues today.

"I do believe that Black lives matter," Hall-Harper said. "I believe the mural is a powerful, needed statement for our community." 

"I would hate for us to be seen as a city that, at this critical time, erased those words," Hall-Harper said.

Throughout the discussion, Councilor Connie Dodson repeatedly suggested that the phrase "Black Lives Matter" was too "political" to be embraced by the council.

"The message we are talking about is more of a political message," Dodson said, saying "Black Wall Street" would be more "appropriate."

"This particular statement is very much a political statement, to the point that even donations to this go to a political party," Dodson said. (It was unclear what Dodson was referring to.)

Councilor Kara Joy McKee forcefully rejected Dodson's argument.

"The Black side of my family matters, and that has nothing to do with them being Republican or Democrat," McKee said. "And whether or not they can safely walk the streets of Tulsa without being in a hazardous situation has nothing to do with their party affiliation."

McKee also accused Councilor Cass Fahler, by bringing the discussion around the mural's legality to the council in the first place, of setting in motion a chain of events leading to people being put in danger.

"I've had constituents of all races feeling the need to camp out in the street during a pandemic, to go down and gather in public during a pandemic," McKee said. "I was brokenhearted to see people having to come together, tears in their eyes, to say, 'Please believe that my life matters.'"

"I don't know if you intended to create this hazardous situation, but I implore you that in the future, please do reach out to me and discuss with me when you have something in my district that is this tense," McKee said to Fahler. 

Fahler did not respond in the meeting.

The committee took no action on the issue of the mural, instead deciding to discuss it further at their next meeting, scheduled for Aug. 19th. It is unclear whether the mayor will have had the mural removed by then.

Chris joined Public Radio Tulsa as a news anchor and reporter in April 2020. He’s a graduate of Hunter College and the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism, both at the City University of New York.
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