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The Oklahoma Supreme Court is expected to rule Friday whether those attending Saturday’s campaign rally for President Donald Trump in Tulsa must adhere to federal guidelines for face masks and social distancing.
A court referee heard arguments over the phone Thursday and will make a recommendation to the justices, who are scheduled to discuss the case Friday afternoon. The referee is not expected to disclose his recommendation.
A Tulsa attorney filed a lawsuit this week to stop BOK Center management from hosting the rally “to protect against a substantial, imminent and deadly risk to the community.”
“All credible, qualified medical experts, including the CDC, agree that this type of mass-gathering indoor event creates the greatest possible risk of community-wide viral transmission,” the petition states.
Oklahoma set a new state record for case increases in a single day on Thursday, confirming 450 new cases.
Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt has said that people concerned about the spread of COVID-19 at the rally should stay home.
– Tim Willert, The Oklahoman
Trump campaign: Hope any protests are peaceful
A Trump campaign spokesman said Friday peaceful protests are common around the president’s rallies, but that officials hope the latest event in Tulsa on Saturday doesn’t become as violent as protests for racial justice in other cities.
Trump tweeted Friday that “protesters, protesters, anarchists, looters or lowlifes” won’t be treated like in New York, Seattle or Minneapolis, but that Tulsa will “be a much different scene!”
Civil-rights advocates have argued that Trump lumped peaceful protesters, who have a First Amendment right to protest, with the violent rioters. Marc Lotter, the director of strategic communications for the Trump 2020 campaign, told MSNBC that the campaign hopes the protests remain peaceful.
“Well, I think if they’re peaceful and if they’re agitating and getting into the violence and other things that will be a different story,” Lotter said. “But we normally have peaceful protests going on around our rallies. And we would hope that anybody that’s coming in from out of town would continue to honor that peaceful tradition in our country and not go to violence.”
Lotter also said the campaign is providing masks for attendees, but wouldn’t mandate they be worn because people are free to make their own decisions.
“Well, we’re making the masks available and we encourage anyone who wants to wear one to be able to do so,” Lotter said. “But we also understand that this is an individual choice. And that people have a right to make the decision for themselves whether they want to come to the rally, whether they want to come inside, whether they want to be outside and also if they want to wear a mask. This is a risk that people know and that they are free to make the decisions that best reflect their needs, their desires and their own personal health.”
Bart Jansen, USA TODAY
Police: Threats to Trump rally from social media
Concerns among Tulsa officials about the potential for violence outside Trump’s rally Saturday appeared to come from social media postings, according to Tulsa police.
Jeanne Pierce, a Tulsa Police Department spokesperson, told USA TODAY the city’s information on threats came from social media postings on sites like Twitter, Facebook, and Craigslist. Pierce cited posts on Craigslist that urged people to come to Tulsa and make trouble or for people infected with COVID-19 to attend and expose others to the sometimes fatal illness. At least some of the posts have been confirmed fake.
They “don’t know if they’re hoaxes or they’re true but it’s a precautionary measure,” Pierce explained.
Asked about the mayor’s estimate of over 100,000 people at the rally, Pierce said the numbers were what the White House press office had told the city, factoring in the 19,1990-person capacity of the arena and the overflow capacity outside.
– Nicholas Wu, USA TODAY
Curfew imposed ahead of rally
Mayor G. T. Bynum announced the order Thursday evening, citing the expected crowds of more than 100,000, the planned protests and the civil unrest that has already erupted in the city and around the nation this month.
Bynum also said he’s 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 or 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 the order is needed to protect health and safety and preserve lives and property.
The curfew of parts of the city’s downtown started at 10 p.m. Thursday and is in effect until 6 a.m. Saturday. It begins again at the conclusion of Trump’s rally and continues into Sunday morning.
“Big crowds and lines already forming in Tulsa,” Trump tweeted Friday morning, hours after the curfew went into effect.
He also issued this warning: “Any protesters, anarchists, agitators, looters or lowlifes who are going to Oklahoma please understand, you will not be treated like you have been in New York, Seattle, or Minneapolis. It will be a much different scene!”
Trump supporters began lining up outside the BOK Center days in advance of the rally.
“Sacrificing a week of our lives is nothing for what Trump has done for us,” Robin Stites, who arrived on Monday to secure the No. 2 place in line, told the The Oklahoman earlier this week.
In a Facebook post Thursday evening, the Tulsa Police Department said anyone in violation of the mayor’s executive order will be asked to leave the area. Those who refuse may be cited or arrested.
In addition to the curfew, the order bans Molotov cocktails or other combustible devices.
“This is an unprecedented event for the City of Tulsa and has hundreds of moving parts,” the post said. “We are asking for everyone’s help in making this a safe event for all citizens.”
Oklahoma City festival postponed for COVID-19
Organizers of an Oklahoma City celebration of Black culture postponed the event Friday because of concerns about gathering crowds during a time when the number of COVID-19 cases is surging in the state.
The Plaza District in the city had scheduled a half-dozen events during the weekend collectively called “Solidarity in the Plaza: Black Lives Matter,” to showcase Black artists, vendors, filmmakers and performers.
But the event that coincided with Juneteenth on Friday was expected to draw 10,000 people at a time when health officials have warned that any large gatherings could spread the coronavirus pandemic.
“We’re crushed. We were so excited to do something that felt important and like a celebration and artistic. But we just have to put safety and public health first,” Selena Skorman, the Plaza District’s executive director, told The Oklahoman. “We are definitely going to reschedule.”
The number of state cases of COVID-19 rose by 450 on Thursday, in a surge beyond the 259 infections reported Wednesday.
“You can’t say Black Lives Matter and then put the lives of those who are most vulnerable to the disease at risk,” Chaya Fletcher, one of the Plaza District event organizers, said in a statement. “Black people have been disproportionately affected by COVID and it is our responsibility to not contribute to the increase in those numbers.”
– Brandy McDonnell, The Oklahoman