Rev. T. Sheri Dickerson is happy when she thinks about the Black Lives Matter rally in Oklahoma City one year ago. She describes it as the day when activists in Oklahoma “got it so very right.”
But she, Rev. Jesse Jackson and Tamya Cox talked with Free Press this week about their continuing concerns for race relations in Oklahoma and the nation on July Fourth and then later in the week.
Dickerson is the executive director of Black Lives Matter – Oklahoma. Jackson is the pastor of East Sixth Street Christian Church. Cox is an attorney and activist in Oklahoma City.
The three think that not much has changed since the rally where the concern was what many African Americans believed to be wrong behaviors by police toward people of color.
And with the election of Donald Trump to the presidency, things might have even gotten worse.
“In reality, I don’t think we thought a year from now we would still be in almost that exact same place,” said Cox. “We’re still seeing minorities – unarmed black men – being killed.”
Just four days after the rally, this reporter interviewed Cox for an Intersections Podcast episode about the Oklahoma City rally where she talked about what she considered to be the most important aspects of the action.
Then, a few days before the one-year anniversary, Cox told Free Press that things have not gotten better because unarmed young black men are still dying at the hands of the police only to have juries not convict them.
“We think that these unarmed folks will see some type of justice with the arrest, and the charges and the trial,” said Cox. “What we have seen consistently throughout the year is that it is difficult to charge police officers in the killing of unarmed black men.”
For an example, she pointed to the acquittal of Tulsa police officer Betty Shelby who shot and killed an unarmed black man seconds after a Taser had been deployed by a fellow officer.
Cox pointed out that last year they were holding the rally in a supposedly post-racial America under Barack Obama, the nation’s first black president.
“But, fast forward to now where we have a president that has pretty much been quiet on the killing of unarmed black folk,” said Cox. “We have an attorney general who has been accused of racism almost all of his career.”
Cox does see a long-term positive outcome from the rally.
“The one thing that I came out of the rally was the civic engagement.”
“We saw a women’s march that had more people than anyone anticipated, not just in D.C. but here locally, 8-12,000 Oklahomans,” said Cox.
She pointed to the increased engagement of people who have not entered into the public debate in the past.
“We have more women running for public office than in times past here in Oklahoma and nationally as well,” Cox said.
Rev. Jesse Jackson, pastor of East Sixth Street Christian Church was positive about Oklahoma City and how race relations are handled here, but said in the state and nationally, “they are worse.”
He said the state itself, especially Tulsa, has had multiple instances of situations that could have ended in rioting, but did not.
“If it hadn’t been for community leaders, mostly pastors, Tulsa could have turned into another Baltimore,” said Jackson referring to riots there in the past year after a black man died in police custody.
Jackson was careful to praise Oklahoma City Police Chief Bill Citty for working hard to provide intensive training for his officers and keeping them disciplined in how they deal with Oklahoma City residents.
He said the Oklahoma City rally was a good outcome of months of “Occupy the corners” and smaller demonstrations that built up to the rally.
Rev. T. Sheri Dickerson (no relation) had the bluntest words about the current situation for people of color.
“In 365 days, Oklahoma has had multiple officer involved shootings, numerous deaths of inmates in the OK Co jail, mistrials and acquittals in cases that brought international outrage,” said Dickerson.
“Mothers hesitate to allow our children, teens and adults to go out to play, work or to the store,” said Dickerson. “We breathe a sigh of relief simply when they return alive. It’s disheartening on many levels.”
Dickerson, Jackson and Cox are all still working to make things better, though and reflect the hope of the rally last year.
Dickerson expressed it the best.
“That day changed my life. I glean hope and focus from that day when the struggle is heaviest. I am so grateful to have been part of such a historic moment and beautiful community.”
The Black Lives Matter movement began when a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri shot and killed an unarmed teen, Michael Brown Aug. 9, 2014.
Police allowed the body to lie uncovered and in full view in the middle of the street for hours claiming they needed access for an investigation.
But, residents saw it as the police making yet another cruel example in a years-long festering relationship between the police department and the St. Louis suburb’s residents.
Ferguson collapsed into multiple days of rioting with police employing military equipment to try and quell the crowds.
Then, Nov. 24, the St. Louis County prosecutor announced that a grand jury decided not to indict the officer who killed Michael Brown. That event led to another round of riots and protests.
Quickly it became an event of national significance.
“Black Lives Matter” became a meme and then the name of an organization.
That chain of events became the catalyst to form the Black Lives Matter national, state and local city level Black Lives Matter organizations.
An Oklahoma organization was formed and began working toward a rally with the Oklahoma City chapter taking the lead.