The Norman Citizens for Racial Justice group revoked its endorsement of Norman Mayor Breea Clark effective immediately Thursday, citing her “reluctance to commit city resources toward racial equity.”
Norman Citizens for Racial Justice said in a statement it must distinguish “performative allyship” from “true, material support.”
On May 5, Norman Police Officer Jacob McDonough compared the use of facial masks to racist imagery in "Django Unchained" when responding to a Norman Police Department email. This sparked an internal investigation of McDonough by the police department.
In a Facebook post on May 18, Clark said she was aware of McDonough’s email and recommended that, in addition to the internal investigation, the chairman of the Norman Citizens Advisory Board hold a special meeting to review the incident and provide NPD Chief Kevin Foster with feedback. She also said she plans to host a community listening event focused on “personally hearing resident concerns and focusing on how we can better communicate with cultural sensitivity” when “it is safe to do so.”
“Commitment to anti-racist action is not a one-time event,” Norman Citizens for Racial Justice — a grassroots activism group created in late 2017 — said in the statement. “Solidarity is a verb and true allyship requires working toward dismantling white supremacy every single day. This requires constant education and includes dedicated vigilance against the myriad forms of racism and white supremacy in our community. White supremacy is dangerous for everyone and must be disrupted in every encounter.”
Clark said in a Friday morning text message to The Daily that she’s grateful to the Norman Citizens for Racial Justice for their “tireless work in our community.”
“With our council-manager form of government, my role is to create policy, not to issue discipline to City employees,” Clark said in the text message. “I was not informed of the outcome of the disciplinary review until receiving the same press release that everyone received from the Norman Police Department yesterday. Since being elected to the Norman City Council, I have consistently worked to address diversity and equity issues in our community, and I will continue to do so. I have always said that our motto of 'Building an Inclusive Community' is an ongoing mission, and while I’m mayor we will continue these efforts.”
According to the Norman Citizens for Racial Justice statement, the group endorsed and supported Clark as a mayoral candidate because she had contributed to past racial justice efforts, including the renaming of Norman’s DeBarr Avenue to Deans Row Avenue. She promised to make personal sacrifices and remain committed to inclusivity efforts in January 2019.
Since then, though, Clark has been inactive in those efforts apart from making proclamations, according to the statement.
“Mayor Clark boldly references the City of Norman as ‘the most inclusive community in Oklahoma,’ a boastful yet false claim that is reaffirmed within the city motto, ‘Building an Inclusive Community,’” Norman Citizens for Racial Justice said in the statement. “These false claims erase the actual history of Norman, silence the current lived experiences of black, brown, & indigenous peoples, and contribute to a larger, more structural narrative of white supremacy and white settler-terrorism that leads to violences against members of our community. In light of these facts and when there are citizens in our community who continue to feel unsafe, continue to be targeted, continue to be harmed, and continue to be murdered by police and other citizens because they are not white, can we justly and proudly claim that title?”
In a report card grading Norman City Council members — on a traffic light red-yellow-green scale — on the Norman Citizens for Racial Justice Facebook page, Clark received a red light because “she has failed to follow through with her commitment to the NC4RJ pledge and has acted against the interests and safety of marginalized communities in Norman.” Joe Carter and Bill Scanlon also received red lights.
According to the statement, Clark failed to apologize to Norman’s Black community for the most recent instance of insensitivity to racial violence within the NPD, but instead suggested hosting a “listening session” at an unspecified date.
“While this may have been a well intended gesture, we have to think back to the Study Session in Norman City Council Chambers on February 4th of this year in which the Sundown Town Apology and Reconciliation Proclamation was presented to the city by the Inclusive Community Subcommittee of the Norman Human Rights Commission,” Norman Citizens for Racial Justice said in the statement. “During this event, residents who spoke at the podium were given unlimited mic time to spout racist and xenophobic stereotypes about their neighbors, comments that were received by thunderous applause.”
The statement read that those who spoke out in favor of the Inclusive Community Subcommittee’s recommendations were heckled by audience members, and most audience members of color left early, fearing for their safety.
Jeffrey Yamada, Inclusive Community Subcommittee member and Norman Citizens for Racial Justice affiliate, said in the statement that “I held my ancestors close. I thought of the racism and terror they faced as I listened to the speakers at the City Council study session. The meeting’s racist language was breathtaking and deeply disturbing. At times I wanted to flee. At other times I wanted to fight.”
According to the statement, when Clark was asked by a person associated with Norman Citizens for Racial Justice how she’d provide an equity lens in facilitating a listening session, she said she’d use her own equity lens. The group said in the statement that “a listening session facilitated by Mayor Clark would expose the citizens most impacted by racial violence to additional racist and xenophobic attacks and targeting measures.
“In light of the recent exposure of the racially insensitive email initiated by Officer Jacob McDonough, as well as the inadequate response from Mayor Clark, it is our view that the Norman Police Department and the city government as a whole will benefit from implicit bias training workshops,” the group said in the statement. “This recommendation does not suggest that all — or any — of our law enforcement officers or city government leaders condone the content of what was in Officer McDonough’s email. Rather, participation in implicit bias training will indicate good faith and a desire to restore and build trust with the community moving forward from this event.”
In the statement, Norman Citizens for Racial Justice called for Clark, the City of Norman and the NPD to “immediately invest” in implicit bias training for all city employees — especially NPD employees and city government leaders — facilitated by a person or people of color.
The group recommended in the statement that George Lee — who’s currently the HR training specialist and assistant director of policy debate at OU — be facilitator for this series of training. Lee’s programs focus on “community and academic organizational leadership,” according to the statement.
Norman Citizens for Racial Justice said in the statement that it appreciates the attentiveness of local law enforcement leaders in addressing this issue.
In the statement, the group also called for the immediate implementation of “a vetted racial equity lens like the one professionally developed by the Government Alliance on (Race and Equity).” According to the statement, Clark’s comment that she’d use her own equity lens in approaching racial justice grievances in the city “betrays the inadequacy of her current approach.”
According to the statement, the group is asking for local officials to follow through on the recommendations of the Inclusive Community Subcommittee of the Norman Human Rights Commission, especially the creation of an equity officer position to create permanent accountability for local government on racial justice issues. The group also calls for the creation of an ongoing Inclusivity Advisory Committee to create leadership opportunities for members of underrepresented groups in Norman, as well as Norman’s membership in the Government Alliance on Race and Equity.
In the statement, Norman Citizens for Racial Justice calls for local officials to provide for the safety of marginalized residents in city government spaces through “cultural competency training, de-escalation training, and planned containment and mitigation of racist and xenophobic attacks on inclusivity initiatives in the city.”
The group also calls for direct funding from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, and any future federal funding allocated to Norman to go first to the most vulnerable Normanites, including those that don’t own real estate.
"For 78 years under sundown enforcement, property was distributed in Norman exclusively based on whiteness,” Norman Citizens for Racial Justice said in the statement. “We now recognize that this was fundamentally inequitable. But the wrong was never materially redressed. The COVID-19 crisis demands urgent action and material aid to those who have been wronged by past and present inequities. For example, this funding can be used for legal and rental assistance to those facing eviction, housing insecurity, and homelessness in Norman.”
Norman Citizens for Racial Justice said in the statement that it doesn’t expect local officials to be perfect, but it wants them to be held accountable.
“We need them to be humble enough to recognize and acknowledge their proximity to whiteness provides access to power, which enables these unjust systems to persist,” the group said in the statement. “Norman city leaders need to respond to racial injustice in a manner that makes further talk unnecessary. Until Mayor Clark takes material action to redress these wrongs, NC4RJ will continue to withhold our endorsement of her as Mayor of Norman.”