Twenty-one year old Jenifer Tovar believes there are some good police — but she’s just not sure where they work.
Two years ago Tovar, an Oklahoma City resident, was stopped for speeding by the Oklahoma City police. Before she knew what was happening, Tovar — traveling with several children — said the police officer removed her from her car, placed her in handcuffs and was told to be quiet. Her car was impounded.
Tovar said the officer didn’t allow her to talk after he removed her from her car.
“I tried asking him why is he was arresting me, he told me to just stay quiet, I also had kids, and other people in my car,” she said. “He wouldn’t let me talk to them.”
She said the police officer placed her in the back of his squad car during what was supposed to be a routine traffic stop.
“Some of us think [the police] have more power than us, and that’s why all this shooting of innocent people is happening,” she said.
Tovar isn’t alone. Across the state and the country many people of color say they are stopped, handcuffed and arrested for simply being different.
What Are Your Rights
Jason Williams, a criminal defense attorney, says that everyone has rights when stopped by the police.
In a blog posted on the website of the American Civil Liberties Union, Williams wrote that a driver who is pulled over has the right to remain silent upon questioning, and can refuse a search of their vehicle, though refusing may make police suspicious.
“Keep in mind, however, that if the police have probable cause to search your car, or if you’ve been placed under arrest, they can search you, and sometimes your vehicle, whether you give your consent or not.”
If you are arrested, Williams wrote, the police have to read you your rights. At that point you may ask for an attorney. If the police do not find anything in your car you may ask to leave, but try to stay calm, and be polite.
Tovar said afterwards, the police officer wrote her two tickets: “one for speeding, and another one for not having a seat belt on, when actually I did have it on.”
After the police took her car, Tovar and the children with her had to walk home in the middle of the night.
The Black Experience
The City of Oklahoma’s public survey showed that in 2016, 68 percent of Oklahomans voted the quality of police services as ‘satisfactory’.
Twenty percent of Oklahomans said it needs improvement in the same report.
“I tell [my son] all the time that if the police stop you, you comply,” Orlando Cruise, a black OCCC student said. “I don’t know what good that will do in regards to what’s happened, but you still comply.”
Cruise said he believes there are more bad police than good police. “I think that if the good ones could expose the bad ones, then the gap between the police dialogue, as far as the community goes, would be better,” he said.
Cruise said the relationship between police and minorities will take time to improve. He worries everyday about his son, who he fears could be killed by police.
Just last September a black man was shot to death by Tulsa Police Officer Betty Shelby.
Terrence Crutcher, a 40 year old, had drugs in his car when he was stopped, but complied with Shelby’s demands upon getting out of his car. Tulsa Police Chief Chuck Jordan said in a press conference that the video which showed the shooting was “disturbing.”
Crutcher wasn’t the only person killed by police in Tulsa.
“Perhaps most astonishing is the fact that, in 2016, Tulsa came in at No. 6 on the list of most people killed by police in the entire nation,” KJRH Tulsa reported.
The United States Census has recorded that 11,964 black people, 5,900 white people, and 4,172 hispanic people have been killed by police in about thirteen years.
So how do police interact with people of color, specifically black people, the highest amount of Americans killed?
In a recent study, Stanford University Professors Jennifer Eberhardt and Dan Jurafsky found Oakland Police Officers showed biased rhetoric towards white people.
“Together, Eberhardt, Jurafsky and seven other colleagues examined transcripts from 183 hours of body camera footage from 981 stops, which 245 different OPD officers conducted in April 2014,” the study reported.
The study found that by using a database rather than an actual person to review the footage would ensure a non biased report.
“Our findings highlight that, on the whole, police interactions with black community members are more fraught than their interactions with white community members,” Eberhardt told the student newspaper.
Some say that they don’t have a problem with good police officers, but rather the ‘bad ones’.
“I just don’t like police officers that take advantage of their power,” Keshawn Jackson, an OCCC student said. “Like if they don’t have anything to do and say, ‘let’s just go mess with that guy.’”
Keshawn said he had two encounters with police where they decided to ‘stop and frisk’ him.
“There was one time I was playing basketball with a couple of people at the park, and a police officer rolled up, and was like ‘All of you empty your pockets’ just randomly,” he said.
Jackson said there were several races at the park so he thought the cop figured something was happening.
In another incident Jackson said whenever he was alone in a convenient store taking awhile to choose what he wanted a police officer came in. “He walked in and said, ‘You’re taking too long, come here,’ and I walked towards him,” he said.
Jackson said the officer looked suspiciously at his pocket before removing the item revealing that it was a phone. “He took it out, and put it back in, you know invading my personal space.”
Jackson’s stories of random ‘stop and frisk’ procedures aren’t the only ones. Police have used racial profiling to search several people of color for fitting a description.
The Kania Law Office in Tulsa said those ‘stop and frisk’ procedures are often biased.
“While this standing alone is a concern, the potential danger of aggressive stop and frisk policies becomes more apparent when one considers that of the 5 million people subject to a stop and frisk in the large metro area, 3 in 4 were either black or Latino,” Kania said.
“Police Officers in general, the ones who actually do their job, you know, help the public those are the ones I do like,” Jackson said. “I’ll talk to them, and respect them because they’re doing their job, trying to keep the peace.”
Oklahoma City Police Relations
Garrett Elmore, a student at Oklahoma Baptist University, said he feels that the police keep the general population safe.
“Obviously, there have been instances where it doesn’t seem that way with the police where they were doing things that were wrong, and I just feel that that’s a very small percentage of the police population,” he said
Elmore said there are some bad apples in the police force, however he believes the police are doing what they were supposed to do in the community.
Paco Balderrama, a spokesman for OKCPD, said in Oklahoma City there is a trust factor.
“You see a lot of high profile cases here, and a lot of things that happen here turn out much better had they happened somewhere else.” he said. “We try to stay active on social media to tell people what’s going on, and post videos when it’s necessary. Overall we try to stay transparent.”
Balderrama said the police department is trying to reach out to the community with programs like the Police Athletic League which “provides athletic programs, leadership skills training, and service opportunities to the students, and schools involved in [their] programs.”
Oklahoma City is for the most part peaceful Balderrama said. However, police brutality is still a serious issue in Oklahoma and the rest of the United States.
The Washington Post’s database for police shootings indicates that 464 people in the United States have been killed by police in 2017.
The Washington Post reported that “mental illness played a role a quarter of incidents.”
After the incidents in Tulsa with Crutcher, and others around America, Oklahoma citizens still manage to have hope in the officers that are supposed to protect and serve them.
For Tovar, she didn’t mind the speeding ticket. She understood she was speeding, but said the officer could have allowed her to at least ask why she was pulled over.
“They just don’t take the time to listen to people,” she said. “Don’t get me wrong though, not every officer is like that either. It’s just hard to trust an officer and people nowadays how things are.”