Oklahoma City Mayor David Holt spent Tuesday evening in the middle of a crowd of protesters downtown listening to their concerns and in some cases delegating followup to staffers standing nearby.
It was on the same site where Oklahoma City Police Department (OKCPD) officers had used tear gas and bean bag rounds Saturday and Sunday night.
But, it was a very different scene by Tuesday night. Downtown was quiet and tear gas didn’t fill the air. Police officers were not wearing the riot gear they had on Saturday night.
The Mayor listened as long as people were willing to talk late into the night and came after he announced that he was lifting the curfew of an area downtown around the Oklahoma County Jail and key City of Oklahoma City Buildings.
“I wanted to come down here tonight and get in a couple of good nights, you know, where I think we’re back on a good path, where we can just talk about these really important issues,” Holt told several members of the press.
It capped a nine-hour virtual City Council meeting that had finally ended just a few hours before. Normally, the Council meetings end around 11 a.m. or noon.
Free Press talked with some of the protesters near the OKCPD headquarters after Holt had engaged in lengthy dialogue with them.
One long-term leader of Black Lives Matter in Oklahoma City is Sheri Dickerson who met with the Mayor after the City Council meeting earlier in the evening.
We asked if the change in lifting the curfew, their talks, and Holt coming out to listen directly to the protesters might make long-term differences.
“He said he wanted to listen. And there was a whole lot said tonight,” said Dickerson. “We’re asking him to listen and to implement changes, and to represent the constituency.”
“And, these young people out here have been absolutely amazing in raising their voice and offering him intellectual labor so he knows better how to serve,” Dickerson said.
Joshua Harris-Till was one of the young protest leaders who facilitated the Mayor’s coming out to listen. He is the National Young Democrats President.
Speaking about the Mayor, Harris-Till said, “He doesn’t have to have all the answers.”
“He doesn’t have all the authority,” Harris-Till said. “We know that and we don’t expect him to fix every issue. But what we do expect for him to do is listen because he represents us. And then we hope, and we do believe him when he tells us that he will that he will advocate for those actions on our behalf.”
Other protest voices
Patreasha Black talked with us about what the big shift that night might mean.
“I think it’s a first step. But the difference is, this is a lot of the millennials out here, the new generation, they are not going to let it go,” said Black. “So, if this is just step one, they’re going to keep going until we actually get what we need.”
“So I do feel like it’s very positive,” she said. ” The mayor didn’t have to come out. He didn’t have to listen to us. And he did. We didn’t get all of our questions answered. But I definitely think it was the first step in the right direction.”
Black said that they would be out there “every night protesting the same thing.”
“We don’t just want talk,” said Black. “We want real answers – real solutions. If the mayor can’t get it, we want to talk to who can give us the right answers.”
“He’s listened to everything that we’ve had to say,” Rodney Cox said about the Mayor. “And, he’s allowed our students and everybody else to be a part of it.”
And so for them, it’s one of those things that shows it doesn’t matter what you look like, it doesn’t matter the color of your skin, that in these situations like this, you will be heard and you can’t be peaceful.”
Sincere Terry has been downtown protesting each night. She seemed encouraged by the Mayor’s presence but was still skeptical of the police.
“Tonight is a whole new night but they [the police] still do have their gas masks on their head like they’re ready to tear gas,” Terry said. “The mayor is about to leave. So we don’t know what will happen after that. But we’re not gonna leave.”
It was a marathon day for Mayor Holt.
The City Council meeting earlier in the day was anticipated to be one of the long ones anyway because June is when budgets are being proposed by the various departments in Oklahoma City government in preparation for the July 1 start of a new fiscal year.
But, Tuesday was an especially long meeting because the Oklahoma City Police Department’s budget was being proposed in a time when some protesters are calling to “defund” police departments.
In fact, some of the commenters during the day called for that very thing.
Adding to the complexity of the day was that Monday, Black Lives Matter – OKC had called for the resignation of Chief Wade Gourley who is still in his first year as chief. LINK: new chief chosen
And, even more energy was injected into the situation around Gourley’s presentation because of a set of statements made during a news conference on the steps of City Hall by leaders in the Fraternal Order of Police, the union that represents officers in the OKCPD.
The union’s leaders spoke to support Gourley and criticize Ward 6 Councilwoman JoBeth Hamon for supposedly disparaging the officers during a tense series of responses to protesters near OKCPD headquarters Saturday night.
Feature photo – Oklahoma City Mayor David Holt listens to protesters after having rescinded the curfew that was supposed to go into effect that evening. (BRETT DICKERSON/Okla City Free Press)