On April 19, 1992, Agents John McGirt and Gary Thomas were responding to a call about a robbery near the Oklahoma City Courthouse. Responding officers found two suspects fleeing from an abandoned hotel across East Main Street. As the officers got out of their car to pursue them down a long hallway of the building, they crossed paths with another officer who was chasing three people at great speed through one of the hallways. The ensuing gun battle claimed eight lives that day in what became known as “Black Tuesday.”
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The Supreme Court is constantly wrangling with the law, but the facts are also in question in an appeal the Justices will consider this week (Oklahoma v. Castro-Huerta). According to Oklahoma, the Supreme Court’s judgement in McGirt in 2020 has granted criminals impunity in half of the state. Others categorically reject it. Here’s what the FBI has to say about what’s really going on on the ground.
Edward Gray is the FBI’s Oklahoma field office’s special agent in charge, making him the state’s top G-man. He began in January, in the aftermath of the McGirt debacle. “I understood precisely what I was getting into when I applied for this position,” he adds in an interview.
Six ancient Native American reserves in Oklahoma were resurrected as a result of the McGirt verdict. Within such boundaries, the state is unable to punish crimes committed by or against Native Americans. Thousands of cases have been handed over to the feds, with the FBI serving as the main investigator. Director Christopher Wray noted last year that the Oklahoma field office “now has the FBI’s greatest investigative duty.”
Inside the reservation lines are over two million Oklahomans. “For comparison, the Navajo reservation is the second biggest reservation that the FBI covers,” Mr. Gray explains. “Roughly 169,000 people live here.” To fill the void, the agency is deploying agents from throughout the nation to Oklahoma for 90-day deployments. Several hundred local police officers have been deputized as FBI task force officers, enabling them to work on federal matters.
Mr. Gray said, “Obviously, our attention will be on the most violent criminals and instances involving children.” The FBI is “dedicated to not letting these crimes slide through,” and it seems that it is going to great lengths to do so. However, the agency lacks the resources to investigate every instance of lawbreaking involving a Native American in Eastern Oklahoma.
Mr. Gray believes the case traffic has increased “exponentially” since McGirt, with “approximately 30 to 40 cases a week that we open up.” The FBI may send a case to the DEA or the ATF if it includes narcotics or firearms. If the criminal is a Native American, the case may be handed up to tribal prosecutors. However, the tribes have no power over non-Native criminals.
What happens in less severe circumstances, such as when a white burglar takes a Cherokee’s vehicle? “All OK. . . Mr. Gray responds, “Yeah, nothing.” “We recognize that there is a problem, but not only do we lack the resources to deal with single vehicle thefts or petty property thefts, but the U.S. The Attorney General’s Office does not have the resources to try them or any other minor matters.”
Furthermore, it seems like everyone in Oklahoma is aware of it. Mr. Gray replies, “I’ve spoken to the Tulsa PD chief.” “They may intercept someone who has stolen a vehicle from a Native American and just pull him over and return the truck.” Although the FBI could make an arrest, Mr. Gray claims that in certain cases, local officers “can’t even detain him until we get there.”
The natives are well-versed in the procedure. Mr. Gray adds, “It’s really not anything they’re going to refer to us.” “Now they’ll tell the tribe about that name.” They’ll forward it to us.” The FBI maintains track of such crimes and may intervene if investigators “spot a trend,” such as a single-person crime spree.
The federal government is likewise unprepared to deal with minors. Girls are not permitted to be held alongside boys or adults. “If we make an arrest late at night, I’m trying to locate a place to lodge individuals,” Mr. Gray explains. “The ones that I’m aware of that we’re following are extremely severe,” she says of youngsters facing prosecution. They are being detained in accordance with federal adult legislation.”
Mr. Gray seeks a solution that doesn’t make the FBI the only agency capable of investigating a vehicle theft in half of Oklahoma: “That’s something we’re hoping for.” But, once again, how it will happen is beyond of our expertise.” What are you going to do till then? “Unfortunately, such atrocities go uninvestigated and unpunished,” says the author.
That has been the narrative in Oklahoma for almost two years, and practically no one outside the state has paid attention. Mr. Gray’s openness is a service to the public. He is the first government official, as far as we know, to recognise reality. Our interview requests were turned down by two US Attorneys. This problem isn’t their fault, but it won’t be cleared up until more individuals have the bravery to lift their heads above the parapet, as Mr. Gray did.
The tribes are denying their existence. In a recent letter to us, the Choctaw chief said, “Nearly all data suggests that the criminal-justice system is operating effectively throughout Oklahoma.” They seem to believe that politicians like Gov. Kevin Stitt (a Cherokee, by the way) are battling McGirt out of pure obstinacy. No. They’re fighting because it’s inexcusable that perpetrators should be let off the hook just because they targeted an ethnic group.
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