OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – As outrage over the alleged homicide of George Floyd sparks protests across the nation, United Voice and KFOR teamed up to bring Oklahomans a special Virtual Town Hall on Race in Oklahoma.
Oklahoma City Mayor David Holt, Pastor Clarence Hill with United Voice, Minister and Social Advocate Cece Jones-Davis and U.S. Senator James Lankford participated in the town hall, moderated by Joleen Chaney and Kevin Ogle.
Floyd, a 46-year-old black man accused of buying cigarettes with a counterfeit $20 bill, died beneath the knee of white Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin.
Chauvin bore his knee down against the back of Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes as Floyd pleaded for his life and said that he couldn’t breath.
Onlookers captured video of Floyd’s death, and as the video spread across social media, outrage spread not only across the United States, but throughout many parts of the globe.
Protesters are demanding change once and for all in the wake of Floyd’s death and the death of several other unarmed black men and women at the hands of police.
In the first part of the town hall, Pastor Hill discussed why Floyd’s death is the tipping point in a society that has already experienced several deaths of unarmed black people at the hands of police.
“This situation is different because what I’ve seen is that not only is black America seeking to have greater voice and to be heard, but this time we see this great awakening of empathy where you have white America saying, ‘We actually feel it with you this time,'” Hill said. “My own phone has been filled with text messages of people reaching out just to say, ‘I don’t know all what to say right now, but I care.’ And we, in all of my 47 years, have never been through a time like that before.”
The conversation then moved to Mayor Holt, who discussed how, with the exception of some vandalism, the protests have been beautiful and inspiring.
“We will continue to protect our city, but we will also to continue to protect the rights of Blacks Lives Matter and the NAACP and all the average citizens out there who want to have their voice heard, and that’s what I think we need to focus on more than anything, and not let the broken voices drown out the important voices that we’re hearing,” Holt said.
Holt also discussed what was achieved when he met with Black Lives Matter and when he attended a protest on Tuesday night.
“We want to revisit our city’s deescalation policy and we’d like to revisit the Citizen’s Advisory Board,” Holt said.
Minister Davis joined the conversation to speak about systematic bias in Oklahoma, particularly the case of Julius Jones, who is on death row for murder, but maintains his innocence.
“I believe and a juror believed and other people believed that race played a part in Julius Jones, for example, being on death row,” she said. “We know from a study done by Northwestern University on the state of Oklahoma, that an African American man is three times more likely to receive a death sentence than a white person who commits a similar crime.”
Senator Lankford spoke about why Oklahomans have difficulty speaking about the Tulsa Race Massacre, which occurred 99 years ago and resulted in the death of hundreds of black people and a prosperous community virtually destroyed.
“It’s one of the things we didn’t talk about as Oklahomans, but it’s one of the things we absolutely should talk about as Oklahomans,” Lankford said. “When you talk to some African American families, there are still the residual of that left over. So you don’t say, ‘Gosh, that was a hundred years ago, that has nothing to do with now.’ There are generational issues that I think some people want to ignore and pretend aren’t really there, but are there, both in the white community and the black community. That’s why I push so hard to say, ‘Let’s pull this out of the darkness and let’s look at this in the light, and let’s try to talk about what really happened to gain greater understanding.'”
The second part of the town hall included a wide range of topics, including the following:
• Mayor Holt discussed what can be done to provide all Oklahoma City children the same opportunities to succeed.
• Minister Davis spoke about the right of educational equity for all children, and how inequity in the school system is hurting children.
• Pastor Hill discussed whether some Oklahoma communities should officially apologize for having once been sundown towns, which were towns that had laws stating that African Americans either had to be off the streets or out of town by sundown.
• Senator Lankford discussed the importance of elected leaders listening and using thoughtful language in response to anger over inequality and police violence against African Americans.
The third part continued the important discussion about race in Oklahoma, and included the following:
• Pastor Hill and Minister Davis discussed the origin, purpose and progress of the United Voice initiative.
• Senator Lankford, Mayor Holt, Pastor Hill and Minister Davis discussed what Oklahoma parents can do to create progress and inspire their children to become open-minded individuals who are accepting of all people, and what can be done to tear down the invisible racial barriers in our culture.
In the fourth part of the town hall, cultural transition became the focal point of the conversation.
A new understanding of America is being born, and it is hard for some Americans to accept cultural change.
Each town hall participant spoke about the way forward and what Oklahomans can do to come together the nation evolves.
The town hall concluded with an expression of gratitude to the leaders who contributed their thoughtful voices and insight to the discussion, as well as a hopeful message for a better tomorrow in which we are all united.
United Voice mission statement: A coalition of Oklahoma’s media outlets, brought together in a united voice to promote a healthy dialogue on race.