While some recent protests across the country have turned into violent altercations between protestors and police officers, the protest at Andrews Park Amphitheater on Monday was much calmer in comparison.
Hundreds of local residents gathered to protest the deaths of black people due to police brutality, including George Floyd, a Minneapolis resident that died after being restrained by police officer Derek Chauvin last week.
Monday’s protest was organized locally to give citizens a chance to voice their frustrations with racial injustice. However, Keivon Giles, local resident and co-organizer of Monday’s protest, began the rally by emphasizing no tolerance for looting, violence or disrespect, and encouraged residents to express their opinions peacefully.
Giles said he was in contact with the Norman Police Department prior to Monday’s protest.
“We just want to have a peaceful protest and be heard, and to let everyone know that the injustice we see happening is unfair and it’s time to do something about it and take a stand,” Giles said.
Mayor Breea Clark was one of the first speakers at the rally. She called for Norman residents to come together to end injustices that dramatically impact marginalized communities locally and nationally.
“I ran for mayor on a platform that included setting a better tone for our city,” Clark said. “Today, I want to do my part to set a tone of understanding and empathy. Hopefully, we can set that tone together.”
Clark said she recently asked City Manager Darrel Pyle to hire a diversity and equity officer for the City of Norman. Clark said the formal description of the position is still being created, but she is hopeful responsibilities will include community outreach and acting as the point of contact between the city and organizations such as the Government Alliance on Race and Equity.
“We have made great strides in building an inclusive community, but we’re not here to talk about what’s been done in the past,” Clark continued. “We are here today to talk about what needs to be done in the future. And I will be the first to admit we have work to do.”
NPD Chief Kevin Foster also spoke and encouraged residents to voice their concerns, pledging to work to make changes to improve the lives of Norman residents.
“We understand improvement is needed, and we are working with people to improve our department and other departments,” Foster said. “There’s no way to look at what happened in Minnesota and try to justify that.”
Several residents and speakers gave remarks during the three-hour protest, including Trae Young, former Norman resident and current NBA point guard for the Atlanta Hawks, who called for an end to racial injustice. The crowd frequently broke out in chants such as “no justice, no peace” and “black lives matter”.
One of the few contentious moments of the rally came after Ashley McCray, with Norman Citizens for Racial Justice, called for the firing of several NPD officers for past incidents, including Jacob McDonough. McDonough was the subject of an NPD investigation when he responded to a department-wide email chain about face masks with a still from a “Django Unchained” scene in which men carrying torches complain about the fit of their white hoods.
Protesters on stage and in the crowd began chanting and asking for an officer at the rally to come to the podium and speak. Eventually, NPD Maj. Ricky Jackson did step to the podium for brief remarks.
“Let me make it perfectly clear. I, and those members of the Norman Police Department, support your stance and what you’re trying to do,” Jackson said. “We get it, and we understand it.”
The crowd eventually calmed down, and the rest of the protest included remarks from other local residents. The event ended with organizers leading protesters in chants of “black lives matter.”
A speaker at the rally said there will be another protest at 2 p.m. Tuesday at Sooner Mall.
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