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Reverend Robert R.A. Turner Remembers George Floyd 1 Year After His Murder

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

This week is the first anniversary of the murder of George Floyd in police custody and of the mass protests that followed all over the country and the world. Derek Chauvin, who pressed his knee on Floyd's neck for more than nine minutes, will be sentenced next month in Minneapolis. His conviction on all counts was stunning to many, given how rarely police officers are found guilty of murder or manslaughter and how pervasive racism continues to be in American society. Some see it as a sea change, others a sign of how much work still needs to be done. I'm joined now by the Reverend Robert R.A. Turner, pastor at the Historic Vernon AME Church in Tulsa, Okla. Reverend Turner, thank you so much for being with us.

ROBERT R A TURNER: Thank you so much for having me.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: What is your view, a sea change or one step forward on a long way to go?

TURNER: I think it is a great step forward. But we have a much longer path to go. The very fact that we were on pins and needles anticipating the result shows you just how rare the outcome was in Derek Chauvin's case.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Tulsa will mark its own grim anniversary at the end of this month, 100 years since white mobs massacred hundreds of Black people and destroyed the homes and community of thousands more. George Floyd's murder last year galvanized people around the world. Do you think it resonated in Tulsa differently because of the history?

TURNER: Yes, it did. It did. It did so much because in Tulsa, we have the worst example of a race massacre in American history. And nobody was ever indicted or arrested or charged with the crime. And so it hit differently. It was a very refreshing time to see the Derek Chauvin verdict. But even with that verdict, we know that there are still other police officers, and there are several countless cases across America of police officers who have not been charged. And Tulsa is one example.

One shining example of - from May 31 through June the 1, a deputized white lynch mob descended upon Greenwood and burned over 36 square blocks to the ground in less than 18 hours. You know, you had at least 10,000 people made homeless. You had over a 1,256 homes destroyed. And you had over 600 businesses burned and homes looted before they were burned and 300 people killed and bodies dumped in mass graves. And nobody ever has been arrested for that. There has not even been an investigation by our local district attorney's office. And photographs that were in the police department's possession now, all of a sudden, have become missing, you know? And that's baffling to me.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And indeed, I mean, that history has really only come to the forefront recently. There had been also a sort of collective amnesia about it.

TURNER: Absolutely. Absolutely. It's just recently due to shows such as the "Watchmen" that has really hit mainstream notoriety, I guess you can say. And that is because there was this intimidation of silence that the white community had on the Black community because anybody who dare speak up immediately after the massacre - they were either run out of town or killed. And all the lawsuits that we filed immediately afterwards were rejected. And so the white community didn't talk about it because they got away with murder, literally. And the Black community, in large part, was intimidated into silence. And they were traumatized because the people who killed them and burned their houses down and their churches down - they were still walking around scot-free. So it's like a woman who who's been raped still living with her rapist and knowing that, if she pressed charges, nothing would ever happen.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: You do have a voice in your community, and you're giving a sermon reflecting on this period. Could you share some of your thoughts with us? What are you going to talk to your congregants about?

TURNER: Today is Pentecost Sunday. And this is the day that in the Christian church, we celebrate the pouring of the Holy Spirit on all flesh. And Sunday, today, we will hear from heaven about just that and about how, if you have this presence of God, if you have this divine spirit in you, then you ought to be a uniter. And you ought to be able to speak truth because that's what they did when they got filled with the Holy Spirit. They spoke the truth. And what we need in this country, in this so-called Bible Belt, we need people willing to speak the truth. And the truth is America is still not what she ought to be. America may not be what she used to be on paper anymore, but she is still not what she ought to be. And we have seen steps in places like Georgia and Texas that have passed voter suppression laws.

We have seen steps of people who are subscribing to the Barry Goldwater, John Birch Society philosophy of trying to take us back. You know, after Lyndon Baines Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act, you had Barry Goldwater, you know, saying extremism for patriotism is a virtue, is not a vice. I mean, that's what we saw on January the 6 in the insurrection. And so we have to be very careful where we are in society. And we have to have people willing to speak truth.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Reverend Robert R.A. Turner, pastor at the Historic Vernon AME Church in Tulsa, Okla., thank you very much.

TURNER: Thank you so much for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.