What started as peaceful protests of police killings across the nation ended with broken glass and damage to small, locally-owned businesses Saturday evening and into early Sunday morning.
N.W. 23rd and Classen was the scene of most of the protests throughout the evening where demonstrators went from sidewalk protests to blocking traffic in the normally busy hub intersection for hours as day turned to night.
At the stated time of 6:30 p.m. Saturday we saw only eight demonstrators huddled in the Walgreens parking lot at N.W. 23 and Classen. It appeared to be a failed event.
But, as we drove the neighborhoods around the intersection people could be seen walking long distances because they had a hard time finding a place to park. Eventually they arrived.
Two groups clustered on the southwest corner and another group on the northeast corner.
But, once the groups got larger, first some members then more began to step out into the intersection with their signs and chants of “George Floyd!” “black lives matter!” “say the name!” and others.
At first the Oklahoma City Police Department took an aggressive approach making several quick arrests of people who would not clear the intersection.
One of the first three arrested was Mark Faulk, a city native in his sixties and a veteran of many protests going all the way back to the Occupy Oklahoma City Movement in 2011.
His latest Facebook post around 11 a.m. Sunday morning was, “Just got out of jail after 12 hours, I’ll have plenty to say about the extreme & excessive behavior of the OKCPD. They started this.”
Later, OKCPD backed off and clustered a block away keeping a watchful eye. By that time participants had started to arrive from parking in the surrounding neighborhoods changing the dynamics for the department.
No one is sure who sent out a digital flyer calling for the protest of the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, but the result was over a thousand protesters blocking the normally busy intersection at nightfall.
Sheri Dickerson has been a key organizer of most of the Black Lives Matter protests in Oklahoma City since the first big one in 2016 and organized a rally Sunday afternoon.
But, early in the day Saturday, Dickerson told Free Press that she didn’t know who sent out the flyer. She told us some postings to social media were saying she had organized it when she didn’t.
Later in the day we did see her at the protest, but she seemed to be more of a participant than an organizer.
She is one of the organizers of a protest at N.E. 36th Street and Kelley Avenue Sunday. See our preview of the event published Friday.
On the move
After a couple of hours circling the intersection with no interference from the OKCPD most protesters moved south on Classen, turned west on N.W. 16th and then commandeered one of the key intersections in the Plaza District.
After moving on west to Pennsylvania Avenue, they turned north, walked to N.W. 23rd where they turned back east and moved to the intersection they left an hour or so before.
But, after circling that intersection for a time, about 3/4 of the group headed back south down Classen again, this time moving to the Oklahoma County Jail and the Oklahoma City Police Department Headquarters. The two buildings sit on either side of N. Shartel across an intersection just one block north of Main Street.
Once there, the group found a cordon of officers in riot gear around the west side of the OKCPD HQ.
Confrontations at police headquarters
After officers stood in the same place and took verbal abuse from an angry crowd for a time, they eventually started using tear gas. Around 200 people left at that point.
From then on, the protesters remaining were those who were either too resolved or too angry to leave.
Until far into the early morning of Sunday, a group of between 100 and 200 shouted at the police sometimes in small groups, sometimes as individuals expressing rage with the department.
Go to our Oklahoma City Free Press Facebook page to see the four live videos we shot of during the progression of the evening.
The last is a continuous live video we shot for almost two hours until our phone battery power ran out.
This reporter has covered many protests in Oklahoma City, perhaps more than any other here currently practicing the craft of reporting.
Our first big one was the 2016 Black Lives Matter Rally that involved thousands marching and holding a rally.
Where other police departments across the country were showing up in full riot gear across the nation, Oklahoma City Police showed up in numbers but in regular duty uniform. They stood at the perimeter and made sure counter protesters did not disrupt the event.
In sharp contrast, Saturday night is the first time we have witnessed the use of early arrests, threats to members of the crowd, and later tear gas against protesters.
Yes, protesters were more negative and aggressive than before. But, OKCPD was more aggressive early and then late in the evening than before.
This reporter witnessed a crowd become audibly and visibly more angry after police began to use their bullhorn to order the crowd to disperse accusing them of violence against the officers.
The early arrests at N.W. 23rd and Classen and then the use of tear gas and threats at the police headquarters were different and so was the crowd. Cause and effect doesn’t really work in this situation.
What happened through the evening was a progressive loop of escalations.
At midnight and beyond it seemed to be no longer about George Floyd and others who have been wrongfully killed by the police nationwide but about grievances some Oklahoma City residents have with their police department.
And, contrary to common thought, in this city, a number of people from other races than black also have deep grievances with their police department.
At least half of the people still confronting the police line in front of headquarters well past midnight were from other races than black.
If the entire evening yielded something big and measurable, it was dispelling the notion that OKCPD has a wonderful relationship with all of the many cultures within the 600 square miles of the City of Oklahoma City.
Relationship with community
Since our founding in 2016, Free Press has always had a productive relationship with the three OKCPD Public Information Office commanders and their staff.
And, what we have observed is an earnest effort to honor the role of the press and broadcast media. It is a part of the stated values the department has of connecting with the community.
The previous Chief, Bill Citty, worked hard to keep lines of communication open to OKC residents even forming a working group with community leaders after the Black Lives Matter rally in 2016.
He came out of a line of leadership in the department that seemed to try hard to weed out officers who allowed the violence of the streets to lure them away from professional assertion and into brutality.
And from this reporter’s observations, Chief Wade Gourley has shown signs so far that he holds the same values.
One thing last night’s events showed loud and clear, though, is that OKCPD has work to do in connecting more meaningfully with several segments of our 650,000 population.
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