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Norman, OU Police Departments, Norman Mayor Breea Clark attend open forum over anti-Asian discrimination

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A screenshot from the March 27 panel addressing the concerns of the Asian American and Pacific Islander community in the wake of increased hate crimes.

A local nonprofit virtually hosted officials from the Norman Police Department, OU Police Department and Norman Mayor Breea Clark in an open forum to discuss anti-Asian hate Saturday night.

Share & Grow Association hosted the event over Zoom and discussed ways to aid the Asian American and Pacific Islander community in Norman when it comes to racist danger and discrimination. The organization’s president and OU Associate Professor, Qiong Wang, gave a presentation that called on spectators to consider various questions and concerns from the Asian community in Norman.

The Zoom conference attracted roughly 9o0 attendees and came 11 days after the March 16 Atlanta Spa Shootings, when a gunman shot and killed eight people, including six Asian American women. While FBI Director Christopher Wray has expressed doubt the Atlanta shooting was racially motivated, anti-Asian hate crimes in the United States increased by nearly 150 percent in 2020 according to NBC news. 

“The reason for us to propose this workshop is because you have seen this increase of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders communities (facing) the rising tide of discrimination and violence during the pandemic across the country,” Wang said. “There is some uneasiness, some concerns, from our AAPI communities. As a result, AAPI (communities) have felt increasingly vulnerable with each new attack.”

According to the United States Census Bureau, 4.9 percent of Norman’s population identified as “Asian alone.” In Oklahoma, 2.4 percent of the population is Asian with Vietnamese being the third most spoken language.

There were 174 non-violent incidents against the Asian American and Pacific Islander community in 2020, according to NPD Chief Kevin Foster. Foster said there have not been any recently reported anti-Asian hate crimes in Norman, but the public forum was still important to have.

Clark praised NPD and OUPD for their willingness to listen and answer questions Saturday night.

“I very much appreciate and support (NPD and OUPD’s) proactive approach,” Clark said. “We have to know what's happening. And while the numbers say that there's not a lot (of recent anti-Asian hate crimes in Norman), maybe I'm jaded, but I think maybe things aren't being reported. Maybe we're lucky, but I'd rather us be proactive, as opposed to reactive, which is why I appreciate the panel and so many law enforcement officers both from OU and Norman being on this call, because we do take this very, very seriously.”

The presentation went through numerous questions and concerns about the safety of Asian American people in Norman and on OU’s campus. Representing the NPD were Foster, Deputy Chief Ricky Jackson and Lt. Cary Bryant. Representing OUPD was recently appointed Chief Nathaniel Tarver and Deputy Chief Kent Ray.

One of the questions addressed was how closely OUPD works with NPD on matters such as hate crimes. Tarver was the first to answer and said it was Jackson who invited Tarver and the OUPD to participate in Saturday’s event.

“Chief Jackson was the one who invited me to this because he knows what the makeup of the campus is like and that there's a good number of Asians and Pacific Islanders that are on our campus,” Tarver said. “I'm glad that he did that because we'd want to definitely be a part of that. So we collaborate on many things.”

NPD, OUPD and Clark all answered questions from Share & Grow Association that had to do with crime and incidents, police accountability and self defense. Questions included how safe OU’s campus is for Asian American people, what to do for self defense in the event of an attack and how officers respond to hate crimes. Foster outlined a scenario where civilians are encouraged to first, if possible, run and hide before fighting if necessary.

On the topic of reporting crimes, Tarvered assured attendees Saturday night OUPD and NPD always treat all crimes with urgency, along with respect toward victims.

“When there's a suspected hate crime, we respond to all reports of crimes in our community with compassion and respect,” Tarver said. “And if there was a language barrier, we have services that help us to translate, to understand exactly what occurred and who did what to whom.”

Members of law enforcement who were present Saturday night ensured everyone watching they appreciated the public forum and said they will work to be more transparent and accessible for Asian American people in the community.

“If you call us, we'll do whatever we can to assist, advise, direct. Whatever the situation is, that's what we're here for,” Tarver said. “We're public servants. We're there for public service, so even if you just have a question about anything … that's what we're here for.”

Caleb McCourry is an intern news reporter at The Daily and is a junior at OU majoring in English. Caleb has previously served as the sports desk's editor and assistant editor, covering football, basketball and volleyball. Caleb is a Norman native.

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