As a crowd of clamoring protesters flooded into Norman's city hall Tuesday evening, the Norman City Council’s meeting came to a rapid halt.
Shouts of “No justice, no peace” and “No racist police” drowned the discussions inside the council chamber as participants engulfed the sitting and standing areas of the small municipal building.
The demonstration, organized by Norman Citizens for Racial Justice, began with a rally at Andrews Park before participants flocked into city hall.
Several members of OU’s Undergraduate Student Congress were among those advocating for the defunding and demilitarization of Norman police, more transparency in tax dollar usage, justice for black victims of the Norman Police Department and an end to the school officer resource program.
Lauren Patton, Undergraduate Student Congress budget committee chair and political science and criminology senior, took to the podium twice during the open public comment segment to voice her opposition to the city’s new budget plan which, if passed, would increase police funding she says the NPD doesn’t need.
“I really don't think that there's any circumstance — and I've talked to a lot of my peers about this and tried to ask them about a personal time that they or a family member has interacted with the police and needed a weapon — and there's not a singular one,” Patton said after the meeting. “They’re killing people and they’re not helping people so why would we give them money?”
During a brief recess Taylor Broadbent, letters and classics sophomore and Student Government Association representative, said she was displeased with the allocation of 27 percent of the city’s budget to the police department and other first-responders.
Patton and Broadbent said the budget is not itemized correctly for taxpayers to be able to know which public safety programs their money was going to.
“We're here first and primarily to make sure that the city council is held accountable for where they're spending their money in the budget,” Broadbent said. “They don’t know what we’re spending that money on.”
City council accountability was also a priority for microbiology senior and SGA Representative Susan Kerr, who said in the Norman community, there is a “blatant disregard for human life” and a problem with public safety.
Kerr said that more funds should be put into providing counselors at schools and improving public transportation rather than giving more dollars to police.
“I can't even fathom the kind of trauma that some of the people who are here have shared tonight, and I am very privileged in that, being a white girl, I don't have to experience those kinds of things that I haven't experienced at the hands of somebody who's supposed to protect and serve,” Kerr said. “It's absolutely horrifying and if you're not horrified, then you need to listen to your neighbors and the people around you and just wake up. So I'm here to tell the council people to wake up.”
Foster Hillis, political science sophomore and SGA representative, showed his support and said he drove up to Norman from his home in Lawton due to the importance of the meeting.
Hillis emphasized that the city’s decision on police funding is vital to the safety of not just Norman residents, but the OU students he represents and serves.
“I drove up here because Norman is our home for eight months a year,” Hillis said. “This is where students live and they engage in the community, and if they can't feel safe in the community then they should be going to a different university.”
Ultimately, the continuous stream of protesters like Patton who stood at the microphone to share their opinions on the budget prompted Mayor Breea Clark to move to postpone the discussion until June 16 so the budget can be revised — a decision passed unanimously by council members.
Patton said she’ll be back next Tuesday as she continues to push for the defunding of Norman police, and subsequently the OU Police Department, an endeavor that she says will help the bigger problem — racism.
“We are already a fairly racist university, so it doesn't make sense to have a police force that would continue that idea,” Patton said. “I think it's a good step forward to show that we do care about our students to make sure that they do not have a racist police force on campus."