4 minute read

Jace Kirk is the Dean of Students at Santa Fe South High School, a charter school on the south side of Oklahoma City. We saw an earlier version of this posted in social media in response to the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis and the protests that followed. He graciously agreed to allow us to post this lightly-edited version here.

First Person

Where we ask members of the community to write their first-person account of a particular aspect of our City.

I have been part of the problem.

It must have been 10 years ago. I was volunteering at a local middle school three days a week. This school was primarily comprised of brown and black students. I was working with a student in the office when another student entered the office followed by an administrator. The student had been removed from class and it was obvious by his use of profanity what he thought of each of us.

The administrator told him to sit down. What looked like defiance was actually this young man’s last grasp at any semblance of control in his life. “I’ll stand,” he smirked. The administrator engaged in a power struggle. It was completely unnecessary for this young man to sit down to continue the conversation but for some reason they demanded compliance. The standoff ended with, “I’ll give you one more chance to sit down or I will have to call the school resource officer.”

Moments later the SRO threw the door open. The young man was on the ground in a split second and the knee of the 300 pound+ officer was in the back of the flailing middle schooler. The barrage of expletives that were hurled at the officer by this young man would make a sailor blush with shame. The one that stood out was, “I can’t breathe, you f**king fatass!”

race
Jace Kirk at an Oklahoma City Public Schools Board of Education meeting September, 2019. (Brett Dickerson/Okla City Free Press)

“If you’re talking you’re breathing,” came the officer’s casual reply. I wanted so much to tackle this man, to push him off. He had a gun and a badge. I did not. I went into the hall and, as a grown man, I cried tears of helplessness.

The next day I filed a written complaint with the building principal and was told, “If you don’t want his kind of help, don’t ask for it.” I never did.

This week, as I first saw the horrific images of George Floyd’s murder, my mind superimposed the face of this young man on the body of Mr. Floyd. A flood of emotion returned. I realized I was part of the problem.

22-year-old me thought things like, “It’s 2005. Racism doesn’t really exist anymore. I mean sure, there are crazy people but, for the most part, racism just doesn’t exist.”

That way of thinking was shattered when 23-year-old me became a foster parent. Of the more than 20 kids I fostered, only two were white.

I have walked into a barbershop in Moore, Oklahoma, with my brown and black kids only to be told that they were closed. The sign showed they were open for four more hours and there were other customers coming in but they were “closed.”

As I advocated for a pathway to citizenship for my son, I have been told if I didn’t like the way things are I should “go with my son, in a body bag, back to where he came from.” Got to love the Bible Belt!

I have been to Bricktown in downtown OKC with my foster children after curfew. When I stepped away to pay for something, I have come back to find officers rounding my children up while a group of white children who were unsupervised walked nearby.

Some of these examples are subtle. They are easier to stomach, to shake your head and walk away silently. I have been silently outraged, and thus part of the problem.

Silence is acceptance. I am sorry for the times I have been silent.

— Jace


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