Trump supporters, protesters face off outside Oklahoma rally
TULSA, Okla. (AP) - Supporters of President Donald Trump faced protesters in Tulsa calling Black Lives Matter on Saturday when the President stepped on the stage for his first campaign rally in months because of public health concerns and concerns about the corona virus that the event could occur could lead to violence if the police kill blacks.
Hundreds of protesters flooded downtown streets and temporarily blocked traffic, but police reported only a handful of arrests. Many of the demonstrators sang, and some occasionally shouted outnumbered Trump supporters and shouted, "All life is important."
Later that evening, a group of armed men followed the demonstrators. When the protesters blocked an intersection, a man in a Trump shirt got out of a truck and sprinkled it with pepper spray.
When demonstrators approached a National Guard bus that was separated from its caravan, police officers fired pepper bullets from Tulsa to push the crowd back, said Tulsa police spokesman Captain Richard Meulenberg. Officers soon left the area when it cleared itself.
Trump believers gathered at the 19,000-seat BOK center for what is believed to be the country's largest indoor event since the restrictions on preventing the spread of the COVID-19 virus began in March. Many of the president's supporters did not wear masks despite the recommendation from public health officials. Some have been located near the venue since the beginning of the week.
The turnout at the rally was lower than predicted in the campaign, with a large standing area on the stadium floor and empty spaces on the balconies. Trump was supposed to appear at a rally outside the stadium within a radius of high metal barriers, but the event was abruptly canceled.
Trump campaign officials said protesters had prevented the president's followers from entering the stadium. Three Associated Press journalists who reported several hours before the President's speech in Tulsa saw no demonstrators blocking access to the area where the rally was taking place.
While Trump spoke on stage, the demonstrators wore a paper mache representation of him with a pork snout. Some in the multiracial group wore shirts from Black Lives Matter, others wore rainbow-colored armbands and many covered masks and mouths. At some point, several people stopped to dance to Kirk Franklin's song "Revolution".
The demonstrators blocked traffic at at least one intersection. Some black leaders in Tulsa had said they feared the visit could lead to violence. It came amid protests against racial injustice and police work in the United States and in a city that has a long history of racist tensions. Officials said they expected around 100,000 people in the city center.
A woman who was arrested on live television was sitting on the floor cross-legged in peaceful protests when officials pulled her by the arms and later handcuffed her. She said her name was Sheila Buck and she was from Tulsa.
In a press release, the police said the officials had tried to persuade Buck to leave for a few minutes and had been detained for disability after the Trump campaign asked the police to remove her from the area.
Buck wore a "I can't breathe" t-shirt - the last words from George Floyd, whose death sparked a worldwide drive for racial justice. She said she had an entry ticket to the Trump rally and was arrested for trespassing. She said she was not part of an organized group.
A few blocks from the BOK Center, there was a festival vibe with groceries selling hot dogs, cold drinks, and sidewalks with people selling various Trump insignia.
There was also an undercurrent of tension near the entrance to the secured area, where Trump supporters and opponents argued. Several companies in the city center have also nailed up their windows to avoid possible damage.
Kieran Mullen, 60, a college professor from Norman, Oklahoma, held up a sign that read "Black Lives Matter" and "Dump Trump".
"I just thought it was important for people to see that there are Oklahomans who have a different perspective," said Mullen of his state, which overwhelmingly supported Trump in 2016.
Brian Bernard, 54, a retired information technology worker from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, was wearing a Trump 2020 hat as he took a break from cycling downtown. Next to him was a woman who sold Trump t-shirts and hats and was flagged as “Keep America Great Again”. Her shirt said, "Impeach this," with a picture of Trump stretching out his middle fingers.
"With the media not doing this, it's up to us to show our support," said Bernard, who drove nine hours to Tulsa for his second Trump rally.
Bernard said he was not worried about getting the coronavirus at the event and didn't think it was "anything worse than the flu".
Across the street, armed, uniformed patrol officers were bustling in a bank car park with dozens of uniformed National Guard troops.
Tulsa saw cases of COVID-19 spike last week and the director of the local health ministry asked to postpone the rally. But Republican Governor Kevin Stitt said it was safe. The Oklahoma Supreme Court on Friday denied a request that everyone who attend the rally wear a mask and few in the crowd outside of Saturday wore it.
In the Trump campaign, six employees who were preparing for the event tested positive for COVID-19. They followed "quarantine procedures" and did not want to attend the rally, said Tim Murtaugh, campaign director of communications.
The campaign distributed masks within the barriers and the hand disinfectant was also distributed and the participants were subjected to a temperature test. However, the participants did not have to use the masks.
Teams of people wearing goggles, masks, gloves, and blue dresses checked the temperatures of those who entered the rally area. Those who entered the secured area were given disposable masks that most people wore when they went through temperature control. Some took them off after the check.
The rally was originally scheduled for Friday, but was postponed after complaints that it coincided with Juneteenth, the end of slavery in the United States, and in a city where a racial massacre took place in 1921, when a white mob attacked black people, up to 300 people dead.
Stitt met with Vice President Mike Pence on Saturday for a meeting with black leaders from Tulsa's Greenwood District, the area formerly known as Black Wall Street, where the 1921 attack took place. Stitt initially invited Trump to visit the area, but said, "We spoke to the African American community and they said it wasn't a good idea, so we asked the President not to."
Associated press reporters Ellen Knickmeyer in Tulsa, Ken Miller in Oklahoma City, Sara Burnett in Chicago, Adam Kealoha Causey in Dallas and Grant Schulte in Omaha, Nebraska have contributed to this report.
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