October 26, 2020
Yesterday, Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) spoke on the Senate floor honoring the heroic service of Tulsa Police Officer Aurash Zarkeshan. Officer Zarkeshan was attacked earlier this year during a routine traffic stop and is continuing to recover.
As Prepared for Delivery:
Earlier this year, Aurash Zarkeshan or “Zark” as his friends and family knew him, was overjoyed. He had just graduated from the Tulsa Police Academy and was sworn in as a police officer. Zark was a shining example of everything that you want in a new officer. Bright, engaged and committed to public service. He wanted to give back and make his community a better place. At the end of June, with only six weeks on patrol, he pulled over a car for a routine traffic stop. But as we all know, nothing is routine for law enforcement. He and Sgt. Craig Johnson pulled the car over, and what happened next was horrifying and tragic. They were viciously shot in the head during that stop despite many attempts to de-escalate the situation. Tragically, Sgt. Johnson succumbed to his injuries while Zark remained in critical condition. Sgt. Johnson, left behind his wife Kristi and sons: Connor and Clinton.
In that moment of sorrow, the Tulsa community united in prayer and hope for the recovery of Zark. Since the shooting, Zark has undergone several surgeries and spent months recovering in rehab. Throughout these months, Zark provided us with updates on his recovery and the progress he’s been making - even calling into a class of new Tulsa PD recruits. His progress is truly remarkable and as Tulsa Police Captain Kimberly Lee put it, “He really is an example for all of us.” That’s exactly right. Zark is a hero. He persevered through extraordinary pain and strife and is now making a speedy recovery. And last week, on October 15th, Zark returned home from three months of rehab and was met by friends, family and supporters who welcomed him with open arms. Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum declared October 15th “Officer Aurash Zarkeshan Day” and proclaimed that Zark is “Tulsa’s Hope”. I couldn’t agree more - Zark embodies everything that makes Oklahoma great. Zark wanted to give back to his community and he delivered. October 15th will always hold a special place in the hearts of the thousands of people that call Tulsa home.
In August, I spoke on the Senate floor regarding the riots and anarchy happening in Portland, Oregon, and how these events and hateful rhetoric aimed at law enforcement have endangered countless brave men and women who serve. I highlighted the contrast between the violence happening in Oregon with how we appreciate our officers in Oklahoma. Oklahomans have great respect and admiration for our men and women in blue. We know that law enforcement are our neighbors, our friends and our family. They have a dangerous job – one that many take for granted. In that speech from August, I highlighted the attack on Zark and Sgt. Johnson. These attacks are a painful reminder of the sacrifice that law enforcement make every day. “Defunding the police” rhetoric may be politically appealing to some on the left, but we must remember that law enforcement are the first line of defense against threats like what we saw in Tulsa in June.
I had the opportunity to talk to Zark this past week. He told me what was going through his mind while they were being rushed to the hospital: I hope our story reaches the nation. He wanted people to understand what police and law enforcement risk every day – a sacrifice too many take for granted. He wanted people to know the stories of good, honorable police officers. While this tragedy in Tulsa is a reminder of the threats our communities face, it is also a story of hope - Tulsa’s Hope - and community. Jerad Lindsey, Chairman of Tulsa’s Fraternal Order of Police said it best: “There’s not a lot of times you get to use the word ‘miracle.’ Zarkeshan’s recovery definitely fits that bill.” And, perhaps most telling and most inspiring, Zark doesn’t lose sight of what was lost on June 29.
On his return to Tulsa - on a day that was proclaimed to recognize his heroism, he wore a shirt honoring Sgt. Johnson that said: “Fallen but not forgotten.” Even when talking with me, he talked about Sgt. Johnson – Craig -and how he has wanted him to be returning to Tulsa with him last week. Now that Zark is back in Tulsa, he’s going to keep up his recovery, but can also enjoy the simple things he’s looking forward to: his own bed, his dogs, Whataburger, and the love and support of all of Tulsa. And while there are many challenges and hardships ahead for Tulsa and the nation, within this tragedy is a story of optimism and faith in our community and the future.