In Monday’s regular meeting of the Oklahoma County Criminal Justice Authority (Jail Trust), dozens of protestors disrupted the meeting until they were heard as demanded about the $36 million of Cares Act money being considered for transfer to the jail budget. The two-hour meeting was dominated by the protest.
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Chairperson Tricia Everest called the meeting to order, requesting that those who wished would rise for the Pledge of allegiance. Many in the room knelt and raised a fist during the pledge.
In undertaking the business of the Trust, Everest asked to bring an item from the end of the agenda to be heard first. She moved to schedule a special meeting of the Trust for Wednesday, August 19 at 3:00 p.m. to hold a public hearing allowing comment by the many who were interested in addressing the Trust. This was met immediately with dissatisfaction from the assembled crowd. A chant was raised of “Let us speak!”
As the chant and other shouting continued, protestors moved to the front of the gallery. After minutes of shouting and chanting, Everest moved for a recess and the Trust recessed for fifteen minutes, during which protestors improvised a sort of “teach-in,” one member educating the crowd on the history of the Detention Center (Jail).
When the Trustees returned, the protest continued. Everest, in an effort to satisfy the protestors, brought forward the agenda item that covered the proposed allocation of CARES Funds to the Trust for their general fund. She invited public comment on this item. When asked for people to sign up to speak, the crowd booed and members began taking their turn at the mic.
During one point in the meeting, the microphone being used by the public was cut. A protestor produced a megaphone and speakers continued taking turns addressing the Trust, broken up by periods of shouting and chanting phrases such as “We believe that we will win!” and “Ain’t no power like the power of the People, ‘cause the power of the People don’t stop!”
After the meeting Free Press caught up with Adrianna Laws, President of the Collegiate Freedom and Justice Coalition. She said, “We came to be heard as the public, this is a public meeting. They refused to offer us that, so we took it. We want our public officials to hear us. We want them to do right and they keep refusing.”
She said that it felt like a betrayal to try to set up a separate meeting to hear the public.
In an attempt to show solidarity and openness to the protestors, Everest left the horseshoe and spoke individually with several protestors, giving them her phone number and thanking them for participating in the process.
Back at the horseshoe, Everest moved to postpone voting on the controversial agenda item until after the planned public hearing on Wednesday. This did not stop the protestors from addressing the Trust.
A protestor asked the Trustees if any of them would volunteer to spend a night at the Jail. District 3 County Commissioner Kevin Calvey held his hand in the air. When pushed further, Calvey would not agree on a specific date he would do so, but promised those gathered that he would make good on the deal.
Everest, drowned out by the crowd, attempted to push through and handle the recurring and necessary items of business for the trust, approving the minutes and approving invoices. When the meeting adjourned, Calvey left the room followed by protestors. Chairperson Everest, Trustee Francie Ekwerekwu, and others remained behind to talk with protestors and news media.
After the meeting, Tricia Everest addressed media saying that she didn’t have the legal authority to say whether she and the Trust could reject certain money offered by the county, but assured those listening that the Trust would be good stewards of any money allocated to them for the “much needed rehab” of Jail medical facilities and quarantine cells.
Everest said that the Department of Corrections has sent cohorts of seasoned correctional officers to help staff the jail until internal staffing rates are stabilized. Those cohorts are prepared to stay as long as four months to help ease the transition.
She said that the Jail is the county’s greatest asset and liability.
The Jail Trust will meet again on Wednesday, August 19, at 3:00pm to take public comment again.
To learn more
These developments Monday did not happen in isolation. Here is our reporting on recent developments that led to the unusual meeting.
- Oklahoma County Court Clerk resolution would curb protests
- Free Speech, CARES funds discussed at raucous Commissioners meeting
- Resolution against protests yields more protests at county courthouse
- Budget Board approves $36 million in CARES Act dollars for Jail Trust
- County Commissioners strike Free Speech item, allocate CARES money
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