TULSA, Okla. (AP) — For a moment, someone was actually paying attention to what was going on in Jermaine Wilson’s north Tulsa neighborhood.
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In the days after what authorities describe as racially motivated shootings that killed three people and wounded two more earlier this month, the national spotlight was on the crime-ridden neighborhood, where iron bars on windows belie the toys strewn in people’s front yards. The Rev. Jesse Jackson and the national president of the NAACP showed up. Local church and civic leaders pledged things would finally change for the better.
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But after two men were arrested for the shootings and the furor finally died down, Wilson and others in Tulsa’s predominantly black north side were left with more doubts than hopes the area would truly improve.
“Ain’t nothing going to change around here,” said Wilson, 30, who has lived on the north side all his life and inherited his tiny home from his grandmother. “It’s like a little Vietnam here, everyone walking around with their AK-47s.”
Marquis Harley notes he’s still afraid, even though the suspects are behind bars.
“When night comes, I’m inside,” the 21-year-old Harley said. “Around nine o’clock, all I hear is gunshots.”
That’s not to say the shooting rampage wasn’t terrifying. The fear was palpable as police canvassed neighborhoods for a white shooter they said had targeted victims as they were walking near their homes. All of the victims were black.
After a tense two-day search, police arrested 19-year-old Jake England and 33-year-old Alvin Watts early Easter Sunday. Watts is white; England’s attorney has said England is Cherokee Indian. They face charges of first-degree murder, shooting with intent to kill and malicious harassment.
Authorities believe England may have wanted to avenge his father’s shooting death by a black man two years ago. However, England has said he has no ill-will toward black people.
The shootings happened not far from one of the nation’s worst race riots more than 90 years ago, where as many as 300 blacks died. Today, beyond Tulsa’s oil mansions and downtown bustle, some black residents still consider this northeastern Oklahoma city of 391,000 divided. The north side today is pocked with blight, vacant lots and its share of crime – what the past three decades or so didn’t take here, the recession did.
Standing near a sometimes-basketball court overgrown with weeds and sprinkled with glass shards, Harley and 20-year-old Terance Brown describe what summer life is like in north Tulsa for young black men.
“All you see over there is a barber shop and a liquor store,” Harley said, gesturing down the street. He mows lawns for extra money and says he wishes he could buy up some of the abandoned houses on his street – the ones with plywood covering windows and doors, spray-painted with the street addresses because the weeds are too tall to see the numbers on the curb – so more young people like him would move in.