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‘Racial disparity’ festers after Tulsa verdict

TULSA (AP) - Tulsa community leaders say the acquittal of a white Oklahoma police officer who killed an unarmed black man ripped open a long-festering wound.

From the mayor's office to schools and churches, race relations have been terrible in Oklahoma's second-largest city for well over a century. 

So black community leaders on Thursday welcomed Mayor G.T. Bynum's mention of racial disparities on the day after a jury of Tulsans found officer Betty Jo Shelby not guilty of manslaughter. In September, she fatally shot 40-year-old Terence Crutcher in the middle of a city street after observing his disabled SUV.

"This verdict does not alter the course on which we are adamantly set," said Bynum, who took office in December. "It does not change our recognition of the racial disparities that have afflicted Tulsa historically."

But Bynum wasn't specific enough with details of how he would heal Tulsa's racial wounds, and words will ring hollow without measurable change, Crutcher's family and supporters said.

Bynum, who is white, won his campaign in 2016 in part on a platform of racial reconciliation. He's worked closely with Police Chief Chuck Jordan, also white, who won praise for the quick release of video of the Crutcher shooting from police dashboard and helicopter cameras.

But the Shelby verdict is a setback, Crutcher's family said, because it shows a larger failure of the legal system  and by extension society  to recognize the value of a black man's life. Their heartbreak echoed that of families across the U.S. following a spate of killings of black people that has fueled a national debate over race and policing. 

"We're not making this a race issue; it is a race issue," said Rodney Goss, pastor of Morning Star Baptist Church in north Tulsa, where a Thursday news conference turned into an impromptu rally, with dozens of cheering and praying residents sitting in the pews.

At that rally, Crutcher's family called for one concrete change: For city leadership to block Shelby from returning to her job.

She's been on unpaid leave since she was charged Sept. 22. The police chief will review an internal affairs investigation that will determine whether she again patrols Tulsa streets. Shelby's attorney, Shannon McMurray, told The Associated Press Thursday that her client is unsure she'd even want to come back.

"I don't know what she's going to do," McMurray said. "In my personal opinion, she can't be back in law enforcement; it's going to be too dangerous.

"She's going to self-guess herself and get herself killed or somebody else," she said.

Protests over Crutcher's death and Shelby's verdict have been peaceful. Jurors didn't decide the officer's fate until after 9 p.m. Wednesday. Afterward, about 100 people marched and blocked an intersection, but no one was arrested.

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