By Melanie Wilmoth Navarro
As of yesterday, two suspects have confessed to the Tulsa, Oklahoma shootings that left two injured and three dead over the Easter weekend. The two suspects — Jacob England, 19, and Alvin Watts, 32 — were arrested Sunday morning and confessed shortly after their arrest.
Late Thursday, According to the New York Times, England wrote an angry post on his Facebook page about the deaths of his father and fiancée:
Mr. England’s father, Carl, was shot on April 5, 2010, at an apartment complex…and the man who was a person of interest in the case, Pernell Jefferson, is serving time at an Oklahoma state prison.
Mr. England is a Native American who has also described himself as white. Mr. Jefferson is black.
“Today is two years that my dad has been gone,” Mr. England wrote, and then used a racial epithet to describe Mr. Jefferson. “It’s hard not to go off between that and sheran I’m gone in the head,” he added, referring to the recent suicide of his 24-year-old fiancée, Sheran Hart Wilde. “RIP. Dad and sheran I Love and miss u I think about both of u every second of the day.”
Hours later, England and his roommate, Watts, drove a pickup through a predominately black neighborhood in Tulsa and started to randomly shoot pedestrians. Mr. England admitted to shooting three of the victims and Mr. Watts admitted to shooting the other two.
Many within the Tulsa community believe the actions of England and Watts were racially motivated.
The city of Tulsa has a history of racial tension. In 1921, the city was the site of one of the deadliest race riots in U.S. history. The riots began when a young black man was arrested after he was accused of sexually harassing a white woman. His arrest sparked a violent confrontation between the black and white communities. According to documents from the Tulsa Historical Society:
In the early morning hours of June 1, 1921, Black Tulsa was looted and burned by white rioters. Governor Robertson declared martial law, and National Guard troops arrived in Tulsa. Guardsmen assisted firemen in putting out fires, took imprisoned blacks out of the hands of vigilantes and imprisoned all black Tulsans not already interned. Over 6,000 people were held at the Convention Hall and the Fairgrounds, some for as long as eight days.
Twenty-four hours after the violence erupted, it ceased. In the wake of the violence, 35 city blocks lay in charred ruins.
Historians estimate that over 300 people were killed in the riot and more than 8,000 were left homeless.
Now, 91 years after the deadly riot, race relations in Tulsa remain rocky. Many, including the Tulsa NAACP chapter and Tulsa City Council member Jack Henderson, want the gunmen to be prosecuted for a hate crime.
“Somebody that committed these crimes were very upset with black people,” said Jack Henderson, “That person happened to be a white person. The people that they happened to kill and shoot were black people — that fits the bill for me.”
Police officials and prosecutors, however, say it is still too early in the investigation to call the shooting rampage a hate crime.