Although the media spotlight on the Tulsa Massacre of 1921 has faded following the national recognition of its 100th anniversary, efforts are gaining ground to get compensation for one of the most violent episodes in U.S. history.
Civil rights attorney Damario Solomon-Simmons of Solomon Simmons Law is attempting to lead a lawsuit against the city of Tulsa for the razing of Black Wall Street and the murder of hundreds of its residents.
Many Americans learned only recently about the massacre.
“I learned of this when trump scheduled an indoor rally in Tulsa on the anniversary of this travesty. It was never a coincidence”n@susie_cream tweeted
Sherrilyn Ifill, president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, tweeted, “This just devastates me.”
Here are three things you should know.
Solomon-Simmons, 44, is the lead attorney in a lawsuit against the city of Tulsa, the Tulsa County Board of Commissioners, and other government entities. The suit is taking a “novel” approach, OZY reported. New York City-based Schulte Roth & Zabel law firm recently joined forces with Solomon-Simmons in the lawsuit.
The suit seeks reparations based on Oklahoma’s public nuisance law. This is the same law that Oklahoma used against drug manufacturer Johnson & Johnson, winning a $465 million judgment over the opioid crisis.
In the Tulsa massacre, the nuisance, claims the suit, is that white mobs destroyed the Black-populated Greenwood, killed and dispersed people, and created systemic inequities that still linger today, according to Solomon-Simmons.
“What we are saying with the lawsuit is (if) you create a public nuisance, you have a responsibility to abate it, to fix it, to stop it,” he told OZY, noting that the nuisance law has no statute of limitations. “And your responsibility continues until the nuisance is corrected — it doesn’t matter if it’s five years, 50 years, or 150 years.”
If Solomon-Simmons’ case is successful, other people seeking reparations could follow suit. “It’s possible that a liberal court could find that these disparities require a finding of a constitutional right to reparations to be funded by the federal government and all state governments where slavery was permitted,” said Jeffrey Johnson, a lawyer and managing legal editor for online legal resource FreeAdvice. “A conservative court would probably hold that the nuisance laws were not meant to apply in such cases and that reparations for societal harms like these represent a slippery slope or are too diffuse in impact to be calculable or otherwise inappropriate.”
Many local authorities not only failed to prevent the massacre, but as public records show, participated. The Oklahoma National Guard recently apologized for the role it played in the massacre a century ago — a U-turn from its previous stance.
This apology will help Solomon-Simmons’s lawsuit.
“Just in September of 2020, when we filed our case, the National Guard came out and said, ‘Hey, we didn’t have anything to do with it, if it wasn’t for us it would have been worse,'” Solomon-Simmons told Public Radio Tulsa.
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