The Associated Press
TULSA, Okla. — The mayor of Tulsa has declared a civil emergency and set a curfew for the area around the arena where President Donald Trump plans to hold a campaign rally this weekend.
In his executive order establishing a curfew around the BOK Center from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. through Saturday and from the end of Saturday night's rally until 6 a.m. Sunday, Mayor G.T. Bynum cited the unrest that followed some of the recent protests around the country over the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis last month.
“I have received information from the Tulsa Police Department and other law enforcement agencies that shows that individuals from organized groups who have been involved in destructive and violent behavior in other States are planning to travel to the City of Tulsa for purposes of causing unrest in and around the rally,” Bynum said in his order, which was posted on the police department's Facebook and Twitter pages.
Bynum didn't elaborate as to which groups he meant and police Captain Richard Meulenberg declined to identify any of them. Although President Trump has characterized those who have clashed with law enforcement after Floyd’s death as organized, radical-left thugs engaging in domestic terrorism, an Associated Press analysis found that the vast majority of people arrested during recent protests in Minneapolis and Washington, D.C., were locals.
Police said the scores of Trump supporters who have camped in parking lots and on sidewalks outside of the 19,000-seat arena must leave the area during the curfew or face possible arrest. Meulenberg, though, said there had been no arrests since the curfew went into effect at 10 p.m. Thursday.
“A lot of people may not have heard about this, we're starting off as gently as possible, saying 'Hey, you can't be here,'" Meulenberg said. “There was no trouble at all.”
A video shared by Breitbart News showed several people leaving an area within the curfew zone at the direction of a police officer, moving tents beyond a barricade and carrying chairs and backpacks.
Bynum's order said crowds of 100,000 or more were expected in the area around the rally.
Trump's campaign manager, Brad Parscale, told Fox News on Friday that those unable to get into the arena are expected to attend what he described as a “festival” outside where the president might also appear.
“Tens of thousands of people will be able to be in attendance and we’re going to have multiple places where the president can speak,” he said.
Parscale said he will “probably be wearing a mask” during the event, which Republican Governor Kevin Stitt has said will be safe.
That has not reassured the arena's management, who requested a written health and safety plan from the Trump campaign on Thursday. In a statement to Oklahoma City television station KFOR, rally organizers appeared unimpressed but said they would review the request.
The Trump campaign said it takes “safety seriously,” noting that organizers are providing masks, hand sanitizers and doing temperature checks for all attendees.
The Oklahoma Supreme Court is expected to rule Friday on a request to require everyone inside the arena to maintain social distancing of at least six feet and wear a face mask. The request was made by John Hope Franklin for Reconciliation, a nonprofit that promotes racial equality, and the Greenwood Centre, Ltd., which owns commercial real estate, and on behalf of two local residents described as having compromised immune systems and being particularly vulnerable to COVID-19.
In a Facebook post Tuesday, the mayor confessed to feeling anxious about the potential spread of the coronavirus by people attending the rally.
“As someone who is cautious by nature, I don’t like to be the first to try anything. I would have loved some other city to have proven the safety of such an event already,” Bynum wrote.
The city's health director, Dr. Bruce Dart, has said he would like to see the rally postponed, noting that large indoor gatherings are partially to blame for the recent spread of the virus in Tulsa and Tulsa County.
The rally was originally scheduled for Friday, but it was moved back a day following an uproar that it otherwise would have happened on Juneteenth, which marks the end of slavery in the U.S., and in a city where a 1921 white-on-black attack killed as many as 300 people.
Marc Lotter, the Trump campaign's strategic communications director, told MSNBC on Friday that the rally “is really a celebration of an America that’s reopening.”
He said the campaign asks that supporters to stay away from the rally if they or a family member are in a high risk category for serious complications from the coronavirus.
That message has not been widely echoed by the president or his campaign, which has encouraged supporters to attend, and Lotter said the campaign would not require wearing face coverings.
“If you want to make that choice to come here, celebrate your First Amendment rights as well to assemble, to let your voices be heard and to celebrate an America that’s reopening and this president then you’re encouraged to come here,” he said.
Oklahoma has seen a recent spike in coronavirus cases, setting a daily high on Thursday of 450. Health officials on Friday reported 125 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Tulsa County, which is the most of any county in Oklahoma. Statewide, there were 352 new cases and one new coronavirus death reported Friday, raising the state's total number of confirmed cases since the pandemic began to 9,706 and its death toll to 367.
The actual number of people who have contracted the virus is likely higher because many people have not been tested and studies suggest that people can be infected but not feel sick.
For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms that clear up within weeks. But for others, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, the highly contagious virus can cause severe symptoms and be fatal.