In Oklahoma City and across the country, protests are demanding significant reform to combat police brutality and killings.
On Tuesday, an Oklahoma City council meeting ran for more than eight hours, in part, because of public comment during the police department’s budget presentation for Fiscal Year 2021, which starts in July.
“I’m asking you to defund and demilitarize our police,” one woman said. “Let’s invest more in our people and divest from police,” one man said. “The (police department’s) funding needs to be cut, not increased,” another said.
“Defund the police” has become a common buzz phrase for protesters following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. The phrase, according to University of Oklahoma African American Studies Professor Andrea Benjamin, has a lot to unpack.
“I don’t know that everyone actually wants policing to be zero dollars at the line item,” Benjamin said. “I think that might be a misunderstanding of it, but I think (demonstrators) want to know the amount of money we spend on policing reflects what we think policing should be.”
She said that the phrase can often link to a desire to reshape police departments, rather than abolish them.
“For some people when you see the police, you do in fact feel safer. But there are other people who that doesn’t make them feel safe. So, this notion of safety… it’s (a reimagining of) what does safety look like for a larger set of the community.”
The Oklahoma City Police Department is bracing for a budget cut of about 6% for FY2021, which could freeze 34 vacant officer positions.
Chief Wade Gourley, who took the job in July 2019, said he’s still relatively new to the job. The COVID-19 pandemic, he said, immediately halted all community-focused events the department had planned.
“It was kind of a perfect storm,” Gourley said. “I’m trying to get the message out there as best we can: I always want to do better; I always want this police department to do better.”