Suspects Arrested In Okla. Shootings

Two men have been arrested in connection with the shooting deaths of three people in Tulsa, Okla., last Friday. Amanda Bland, a reporter for the Tulsa World, discusses the arrests.

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LAURA SULLIVAN, HOST:

It's WEEKENDS on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Laura Sullivan, in for Guy Raz.

Police in Tulsa, Oklahoma, say it's too early to say whether race was a factor in a shooting spree that left three dead and two critically wounded Friday. This morning, a break. Police arrested two men in connection with the shootings. The spree had Tulsa on edge all weekend. The victims were all African-Americans. And early on, one surviving victim reported a lone white gunman fired the shots, which stoked public fears of a hate crime.

One of the men arrested is 33-year-old Alvin Watts, who is white. The other, 19-year-old Jake England, is identified on some court records as white and on others as Native American. At a press conference this afternoon, Tulsa police Chief Chuck Jordan was asked whether he thought the crime was racially motivated.

CHIEF CHUCK JORDAN: That's way too premature for me to make that comment. Again, I said, you know, you could look at the facts of the case and certainly come up with what would appear to be a logical theory, but we're going to let the evidence take us where we want to go. There are other motivations than race sometimes in these type of incidents, and we're going to look at all of it. But I...

SULLIVAN: But when asked for his own thoughts on the killing, Chief Jordan responded this way.

JORDAN: This is not what Tulsa, Oklahoma's about. Our hate groups are very spotty. We have them over the decades occasionally. They're not something we have to even - we don't have them here to monitor them on a regular basis. And we feel fortunate about that.

SULLIVAN: Part of the focus on race comes from new information today about a post on Jake England's Facebook page. The post references the death of his father who, two years ago, was shot and killed in a scuffle with an African-American man. England uses a racial slur to describe that incident.

For more, we're joined by NPR's Cheryl Corley who is in Tulsa. Cheryl, what is the backstory of that Facebook post?

CHERYL CORLEY, BYLINE: The authorities here were very reluctant to provide too many details about it, except to say that they are investigating that Facebook post, and that's a normal procedure that they follow in any investigation, looking at what's on social media. They did mention this event had occurred but didn't provide too many details about it at this point.

SULLIVAN: The police department formed a special task force over the weekend after it became clear on Friday that the person or people who had done this were still at large. It seems like they acted pretty quickly.

CORLEY: They did act very quickly. And at the press conference, they talked about that quite a bit - those shootings took place on Friday. The arrests were made very early this morning. And they said they were very desperate to move forward, that they had an excess of tips from crime stoppers. And they indicated that that was the most important thing in this case, that those tips from people in the community really helped them develop information about the suspects and determine who the suspects were and allowed them to move forward and make these arrests early in the morning.

SULLIVAN: The police chief today was asked whether he feared race riots, which the city grappled with way back in the 1920s. What's then the reaction from Tulsa's black community at the news of the arrests?

CORLEY: Yeah. The city councilman, Jack Henderson, represents the district of north Tulsa where these shootings took place. It's a predominantly African-American neighborhood in Tulsa. He indicated - and both the mayor indicated that they didn't think any kind of race riot or backlash was one that occurred here.

And I must say that Jack Henderson said people in north Tulsa, many of them are just really not comfortable calling the police, but this was something too big, too different, and people did. And he believes that it's going to spur better relations with the police department, and he thinks eventually help the police and Tulsa solve unsolved crimes in the area where people were afraid to call police in the past.

SULLIVAN: NPR's Cheryl Corley in Tulsa. Thanks so much, Cheryl.

CORLEY: You're quite welcome.

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