As several police officers circled the Monday afternoon Black Lives Matter rally in Norman’s Andrews Park, the event’s speakers discussed racial injustice and related issues — including the need for police reform.
The rally, entitled “I Matter: A Demand for Justice,” was in response to the killings of George Floyd and countless other black Americans across the country. Although the rally organizers emphasized the prevalence of police brutality in America, they said systematic racism was the root cause and the true thief of black lives.
In an opening statement, Norman Mayor Breea Clark said she wants to do her part to set a “tone of understanding and empathy,” and she plans to listen and learn from everyone at the rally.
In addition to setting tones, though, Clark is able to enact policy as mayor. She said she’s reflected on the policies she’s put in place to make Norman a more inclusive community, but was at the event to discuss what still needs to be done.
Clark announced that she’s asked Norman City Manager Darrel Pyle to hire a diversity and equity officer, even during an “unprecedented budget crisis.” She said city officials are working on a job description and hope to have the position in place by early fall.
Norman musician Jahruba Lambeth spoke next, explaining that he’s been in Norman for about 60 years.
Lambeth said he’s a member of the “Sundowner Club” because he remembers when Norman was a sundown town — a town that black people were required to leave before sundown. He said he also remembers when Norman streets were named after Ku Klux Klan members.
He said popular opinion of racial diversity has changed during his lifetime, adding that when he was younger, his family couldn’t go to school in Norman.
“We’ve come a long way, I’ve seen this town grow,” Lambeth said. “(Ada Lois Sipuel Fisher) couldn’t even go to the law school here, and now we’re cranking out black lawyers left and right. We’ve come a long way, but the distance is even further that we’ve got to go.”
Norman Police Department Chief Kevin Foster spoke, explaining he plans on working with others to make changes to his department and to other departments around the nation.
“There’s no way anybody can look at what happened in Minnesota and try to justify that,” Foster said. “We understand that if one person is guilty there, then everybody there should be guilty because there was more than one person on that gentleman at that time.”
After Foster left the stage, some audience members yelled for him to “get hate speech out of the (Norman Police Department)” and hold officers accountable.
In her speech, Ashley Nicole McCray — a member of Norman Citizens for Racial Justice — called for the firing of several Norman police officers, including Jacob McDonough.
The Norman Police Department began an internal investigation of McDonough after he responded to an email about custom-printed masks with a picture of Ku Klux Klan imagery from the movie "Django Unchained." The police department completed its investigation May 27, reporting that McDonough had violated department policy, and discipline would be decided based on the facts of the case but wouldn’t be released to the public.
Norman councilwoman Alex Scott asked audience members to put their hands in the air as McCray described a police encounter involving Marconia Kessee, a homeless black man who entered the Norman Regional Hospital while in cardiac arrest in 2017. According to the Norman Transcript, Kessee was arrested by Norman police officers Daniel Brown and Kyle Canaan after the hospital’s staff reported that Kessee had been examined and discharged but refused to leave.
McCray said the officers dragged Kessee out of the hospital for an hour while he was dying, and called for the firing of Brown and Canaan.
After McCray’s speech, some audience members called for Norman police officers to respond. About a minute passed, and some organizers said the police officers didn’t have to speak if they didn’t want to, while one organizer and some audience members continued to call for a response and questioned why the officers were at the event if not to speak.
Finally, one police officer walked to the podium and said he supports the protesters and is happy to engage in discussion with whoever wants to speak with him.
The rest of the event passed relatively uneventfully, with speeches and recitations of poems from many different speakers.
The last speech was from Michelle Shackelford, the daughter of the first black police officer in Norman. She said her father, Booker D. Shackelford, “went through it all” — including having Norman residents assume that he wasn’t a legitimate police officer because he was black.
“That is not what the badge is about,” she said. “It is to serve, it is to protect, it’s not to come here to kill. We’ve got one common enemy and that’s the devil.”
She said she supports the Black Lives Matter movement completely, but she won’t stand for hatred and destruction of property.
“It is time for us to unite, it is time for us to rise up,” Shackelford said. “It is time for us to come together for the peace and love of this country — not just Norman, Oklahoma — I’m talking about America.”
Correction: This article was updated at 2:02 p.m. June 2 to reflect the fact that Alex Scott, not Ashley Nicole McCray, asked audience members to put their hands up.