African Americans 'probably ought to be' shot more by police, a top Tulsa officer said

David K. Li
·4 min read

Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum on Wednesday blasted one of his police department's top commanders after the officer denied there's systemic racism in law enforcement, then said African Americans "probably ought to be" shot more.

Tulsa Chief of Police Wendell Franklin, the first African American to hold that position, on Thursday also denounced the incendiary comments made by Major Travis Yates.

"Chief Wendell Franklin and the Tulsa Police Department want to make it very clear we do not endorse, condone or support Yates’ comments made on the show," a statement from the TPD said. "This matter has been referred to our Internal Affairs Unit."

Yates was on KFAQ on Monday, in a weekly segment called "Behind the Blue Line," when he said there's no institutional racism in policing.

“All the research said — including Roland Fryer, an African American Harvard professor, Heather MacDonald and the National Academy of Sciences — all of their research says we’re shooting African Americans about 24 percent less than we probably ought to be based on the crimes being committed," Yates said.

Yates did not specifically cite which studies led him to this conclusion.

A representative for the National Academy of Sciences declined comment on Thursday.

Fryer, an economics professor cited by Yates, authored a 2016 paper on policing, published in The Journal of Political Economy. He found that African Americans and Hispanics were disproportionately targeted for use of force by officers — but said there were "no racial differences" in terms of officer-involved shootings.

"Our paper has three main findings: There are large racial differences in non-lethal use of force, those differences persist even among citizens who the police report are fully compliant, but we find no racial differences - statistically zero - in officer-involved shootings," Fryer said in a statement to NBC News.

"Yes that’s what our paper makes clear. Big differences in lower level uses of force. No difference in shootings."

Critics of Fryer's work said the professor leaned too heavily on self-reports from police and underplayed shooting "incidents that were legal but unnecessary."

In a Washington Post editorial in response to Fryer's work, writer Radley Balko listed several cases of police shootings that were deemed lawful but might have been avoidable with more careful work by officers.

"Again, none of this is to say this data is completely useless," Balko wrote. "We just need to be really cautious about how we use it, and realize that the numbers alone don’t always tell the story.

MacDonald, a fellow at the Manhattan Institute and author of “The War on Cops,” penned an opinion piece for The Wall Street Journal last week insisting that a "solid body of evidence finds no structural bias in the criminal-justice system."

Data on police shootings, maintained by The Washington Post since 2015, has shown that African Americans are killed by police at more than twice the rate of whites.

For more than two weeks, protesters across the world have been demanding action against systemic racism and police brutality, following the death of George Floyd while in the custody of Minneapolis police.

"When you look at law enforcement contacts, If a certain group is committing more crimes, more violent crimes, and law enforcement is having to come in more contact with them, then that number‘s going to be higher," Yates said.

Image: G.T. Bynum (Ann Hermes / Christian Science Monitor via Getty Images file)
Image: G.T. Bynum (Ann Hermes / Christian Science Monitor via Getty Images file)

Mayor Bynum demanded an apology and said the department is investigating Yates. The mayor said of Yates' radio interview: "Speaking of dumb comments."

"He does not speak for my administration, for the Tulsa Police Department, or the City of Tulsa," Bynum said in a statement. "And if he didn’t mean to make the statement in the way it has been received, he owes Tulsans a clarification and an apology."

Lt. Marcus Harper, president of Tulsa’s Black Officers Coalition, said Yates’ comments send a chilling message throughout the department.

“He’s in a position of power in the police department," Harper said. "His attitude is going to go downhill to that young, brand-new officer or that officer in field training right now.”

Serving under Police Chief Franklin are three deputy chiefs, who preside over nine division commanders, who include Maj. Yates.

Yates, who supervises the Records Division, would be represented by the Tulsa Fraternal Order of Police if the department takes action against him, according to union chairman Jerad Lindsey.

"It's not currently in the FOP's purview," Lindsey said. "We have not been told of any discipline yet."