Judge Denies Bid to Require Social Distancing at Trump’s Tulsa Campaign Rally

Freeman Culver stands in front of a mural listing the names of businesses destroyed during the Tulsa race massacre in Tulsa, Okla., on Monday. The mural is on a wall that has historically served as the city’s white-black dividing line from. President Donald Trump will rally on the other side Saturday. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

DALLAS (CN) — An Oklahoma judge Tuesday evening refused to halt President Trump’s campaign from holding its first mass campaign rally during the Covid-19 pandemic in Tulsa, even though social distancing will not be observed at the event.

Tulsa County District Judge Rebecca Nightingale rejected an emergency motion for a temporary restraining order filed by a group of Tulsa residents and businesses who claim the rally constitutes a public nuisance under state law.

Greenwood Centre, the John Hope Franklin Center for Reconciliation and two individuals sued the arena’s operators — SMG and ASM Global Parent — for protection against what they claim is “a substantial, imminent, and deadly risk to the community.” Neither Trump nor his campaign are parties to the lawsuit, which also does not name the city of Tulsa, owner of the arena, as a defendant. 

The plaintiffs say they would have filed the same lawsuit if it was an event held by Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, the Oklahoma Thunder basketball team or country singer Garth Brooks, and that “this case is not about” Trump. They contend the already increasing number of confirmed infections in Oklahoma will increase if the event is not halted.

“Oklahoma’s already strained healthcare infrastructure will be pushed past the breaking point by a certain spike in COVID-19 presentment at local hospitals,” the 18-page complaint states. “Recognizing the imminent public health risks associated with holding this type of event at this time, ASM Global has suspended all mass-gathering events at the BOK Center until the end of July.” 

The plaintiffs want the rally stopped unless social distancing and mandatory face mask use is implemented.

The Trump campaign has steadfastly declined to impose six-foot social distancing restrictions on attendees, and reports have indicated that the president wants to have a “full house.” His campaign has touted over 1 million requests for tickets to the event, even though the arena has a capacity of about 19,000.

Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale said Monday that attendees will be subjected to temperature checks and given hand sanitizer and masks. There will also be precautions in place for the heat and bottled water will be handed out, he added.

Oklahoma has reported 8,645 cases of Covid-19 with 363 deaths, according to the state’s department of health.

ASM Global could not be reached by telephone for comment after office hours late Tuesday evening.

Meghan Blood, the BOK Center’s director of marketing, said government officials have advised the rally “as planned is consistent with guidance” from the state.

“However, in the event of the government authorities impose new restrictions, we will notify the event organizers immediately,” Blood said in a statement.

The rally will defy guidelines from the Trump administration’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which has deemed as highest risk “large in-person gatherings where it is difficult for individuals to remain spaced at least 6 feet apart and attendees travel from outside the local area.”

Many Tulsa locals have publicly opposed the rally, deeming it a public health hazard. Dr. Bruce Dart, director of the Tulsa City-County Health Department, cited a “significant increase in our case trends” in wishing Trump’s campaign would delay the rally. He expressed concern on June 13 about “our ability to protect anyone who attends a large, indoor event.”

The Tulsa World newspaper said in an editorial Monday that it does not welcome the rally, that “this is the wrong time” for such a large, public gathering.

“The city and state have authorized reopening, but that doesn’t make a mass indoor gathering of people pressed closely together and cheering a good idea,” the editorial stated. “There is no treatment for Covid-19 and no vaccine. It will be our health care system that will have to deal with whatever effects follow. The public health concern would apply whether it were Donald Trump, Joe Biden or anyone else who was planning a mass rally at the BOK.”

This Monday photo of burned bricks on a modern storefront are one of the few surviving reminders of the more than 30-block historic black district in Tulsa, Okla. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

The newspaper also said “this is the wrong place for the rally,” acknowledging the symbolism of the event taking place in a city 99 years after mobs of white people indiscriminately attacked and murdered black residents in the city’s Greenwood district. The Tulsa race massacre has often been cited during mass protests across the U.S. in the past three weeks over the death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man, at the hands of Minneapolis police.

Mayor G.T. Bynum, a fellow Republican, said Tuesday he will not use his emergency powers to block the rally in spite of his own concerns about the mass indoor event.

“Do I share anxiety about having a full house at the BOK Center? Of course,” Bynum said in a statement. “As someone who is cautious by nature, I don’t like to be the first to try anything.”

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