At what was supposed to be a Black Lives Matter march Saturday morning, residents expressed frustration that the group’s planned rally this weekend wasn’t taking place on Oklahoma City’s east side, generally viewed as the heart of Oklahoma City’s black community.
Black Lives Matter Oklahoma (BLMOK) is scheduled to have a protest Sunday evening at Harkins Plaza in the city’s Bricktown District.
The march Saturday, on the corner of Martin Luther King Avenue and NE 23 Street, turned out to be little more than a few women with homemade signs who were not officially affiliated with BLMOK.
Harmony Zachery was an east side resident at the nonevent on Saturday who said she was confused by BLMOK organizers’ decision to hold the rally downtown. When asked if she’d be attending the rally she replied no.
“It’s not a representation of the east side. I probably won’t [go],” she said. “I feel like the impact would have been felt more if the rally started on the east side and then walked over to the Capitol. Downtown and Bricktown really have nothing to do with the east side."
Zachery wasn’t alone in her confusion and frustration. Sylvester Gardon, 75, felt similarly and said he was disappointed with the protest’s location.
“This is a black neighborhood and I feel like this is where it’s supposed to be, not in Bricktown,” Gardon said about the east side community.
Gardon, an Oklahoma City native, said he lived in California on-and-off for nearly 30 years and was politically active while he was a resident there. He said he participated in the marches after the Rodney King beating and Los Angeles riots in the 1990s.
“It sends the message that people will gather in Bricktown rather than within their own community,” Gardon said about Sunday’s rally. “Nothing happens in Bricktown. Everything that goes on, if it’s black, happens in this neighborhood.”
However, BLMOK organizers said it was conscious decision to move the rally from the city’s traditionally black neighborhoods to an area where the protest would be more visible.
“Having the march on the side of town that is viewed as predominantly black, that does not promote unity,” BLMOK organizer Karen Gains said.
She added it was her decision to move the march from the east side to downtown.
“People of all races go there. That’s where people go. It’s a neutral location. We didn’t want anyone to feel left out,” Gains said.
After the recent violence in Dallas, Rev. T Sheri Dickerson, another BLMOK organizer said the venue was also large enough to hold a substantial crowd. She also thanked Oklahoma City police and the owners of the space for being what she called “gracious” about the rally’s publicity on social media.
“The event was prompted by social injustices committed in our nation. We’re not a hate group. We’re praying for the victims in Dallas. We will take time to recognize the victims in Dallas, the police officers that lost their lives and were injured and the civilians as well,” Gains said.
Gains was referring to shootings of black men by police officers, most recently in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and Minnesota which have been highly publicized.
The shootings in Dallas, carried out by at least one gunman, left five law enforcement officers dead during a Black Lives Matter march Thursday night. The national BLM organization condemned the shootings.
The violence has also left many on edge. Saturday morning, Tinker Air Force Base warned airmen on Facebook that while there was no immediate threat to military members “a collateral threat may exist.” The post also advised service men and women to “exercise good judgement” and not to “escalate any situation or bring discredit to the United States Air Force.”
A News 9 source said the Oklahoma Blood Institute moved a weekend blood drive because of the rallies and said the OKC Dodger baseball game was rescheduled.
“Our game times are initially set months in advance and are always subject to change. Due to a high number of events in Bricktown now scheduled to take place concurrently as the original game time, the Oklahoma City Dodgers, Omaha Storm Chasers, and officials from the City of Oklahoma City collaborated to move the game time to earlier in the afternoon,” Freedman wrote in an email.
The Dodgers game is scheduled to start at 12:05 p.m. with doors opening at 11 a.m. The game was originally scheduled to start at 5:05 p.m.
Anyone with tickets to Sunday game but cannot make it to the game due to the time change may exchange their tickets for a seat of equal or lesser value for any remaining 2016 regular season game, based on availability.