Norman Citizens for Racial Justice Revokes Endorsement of Mayor Breea Clark, Demands Implicit Bias Training Facilitated by PoC
NEWS RELEASE - FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
May 28, 2020
Norman, OK – Norman Citizens for Racial Justice (NC4RJ) revokes endorsement of Mayor Breea Clark effective immediately. NC4RJ must draw a distinction between performative allyship and true, material support. Commitment to anti-racist action is not a one-time event. Solidarity is a verb and true allyship requires working toward dismantling white supremacy every single day. This requires constant education and includes dedicated vigilance against the myriad forms of racism and white supremacy in our community. White supremacy is dangerous for everyone and must be disrupted in every encounter.
As a mayoral candidate, Clark was endorsed and supported by NC4RJ because she contributed to racial justice efforts of the past, namely the renaming of DeBarr street. In January of 2019, Clark promised to make personal sacrifices and remain committed to the issue of inclusivity. However, apart from making proclamations, Mayor Clark’s recent inaction shows a reluctance to commit city resources toward racial equity.
Mayor Clark boldly references the City of Norman as “the most inclusive community in Oklahoma,” a boastful yet false claim that is reaffirmed within the city motto, “Building an Inclusive Community.” These false claims erase the actual history of Norman, silence the current lived experiences of black, brown, & indigenous peoples, and contribute to a larger, more structural narrative of white supremacy and white settler-terrorism that leads to violences against members of our community. In light of these facts and when there are citizens in our community who continue to feel unsafe, continue to be targeted, continue to be harmed, and continue to be murdered by police and other citizens because they are not white, can we justly and proudly claim that title?
Without so much as an apology to the black community for the most recent display of insensitivity to racist violence within the Norman Police Department, Mayor Clark suggested hosting a “listening session” at some unspecified point in the future.
While this may have been a well intended gesture, we have to think back to the Study Session in Norman City Council Chambers on February 4th of this year in which the Sundown Town Apology and Reconciliation Proclamation was presented to the city by the Inclusive Community Subcommittee of the Norman Human Rights Commission. During this event, residents who spoke at the podium were given unlimited mic time to spout racist and xenophobic stereotypes about their neighbors, comments that were received by thunderous applause.
Jeffrey Yamada, member of the Inclusive Community Subcommittee and NC4RJ affiliate, spoke of his experience at the February 4th Study Session: “I held my ancestors close. I thought of the racism and terror they faced as I listened to the speakers at the City Council study session.” He continued, “The meeting’s racist language was breathtaking and deeply disturbing. At times I wanted to flee. At other times I wanted to fight.”
Those who spoke out in favor of the Inclusive Community Subcommittee’s recommendations were heckled and harassed by the crowd. The few residents of color in the room became fewer as most left early, fearing for their safety. Ashley Morrison, another Inclusive Community Subcommittee member in attendance at the February 4th Study Session, said “as the recommendations were read, hecklers, two of which sat directly behind me, were permitted to openly ridicule ICS members and sympathizing advocates, teasing them for crying, as well as making racist comments.” Morrison continued, “I feared for my safety as a black woman so I strategically exited the room.” Others stayed in their seats during the barrage of hate, silently crying or shaking with fear.
When Mayor Clark was asked by an individual associated with NC4RJ how she would provide a much needed equity lens in facilitating a listening session, she stated that she would use her “own equity lens.” NC4RJ contends that a listening session facilitated by Mayor Clark would expose the citizens most impacted by racial violence to additional racist and xenophobic attacks and targeting measures.
In light of the recent exposure of the racially insensitive email initiated by Officer Jacob McDonough, as well as the inadequate response from Mayor Clark, it is our view that the Norman Police Department and the city government as a whole will benefit from implicit bias training workshops. This recommendation does not suggest that all – or any – of our law enforcement officers or city government leaders condone the content of what was in Officer McDonough’s email. Rather, participation in implicit bias training will indicate good faith and a desire to restore and build trust with the community moving forward from this event.
Therefore, NC4RJ calls on Mayor Clark, the City of Norman, and the Norman Police Department to:
•Immediately invest in implicit bias training for all city employees, particularly for NPD and city government leaders, facilitated by a person or people of color. Norman Citizens for Racial Justice appreciates the attentiveness of our law enforcement leaders in addressing this issue. We recommend the services of Professional Development & Diversity Inclusion professional George Lee Jr [https://georgeleespeaks.com/ ] as a facilitator for this series of trainings. George Lee Jr. holds a Bachelors in African & African American Studies, master’s degrees in both Human Relations and Adult Higher Education, as well as Graduate Certificates in both Women’s and Gender Studies and Human Resource and Diversity Development from the University of Oklahoma. He is currently the HR Training Specialist and the Assistant Director of Debate at the University of Oklahoma. George Lee Jr. resides in Norman, where he lives with his wife Faith, a nurse, and their two children. George has spent the last decade of his career cultivating collaborative attitudes, encouraging meaningful and positive engagement, and challenging individuals to maximize opportunities. His programs are geared toward both community and academic organizational leadership.
•Immediately implement the use of a vetted racial equity lens like the one professionally developed by the Government Alliance on Racial Equity. Mayor Clark has publicly stated that she would use her own personal equity lens in approaching racial justice grievances in the city, a statement which betrays the inadequacy of her current approach.
•Follow through on the recommendations of the Inclusive Community Subcommittee of the Norman Human Rights Commission, most importantly: the creation of an Equity Officer position to create permanent accountability within city government on issues of racial justice and inclusivity; the establishment of an ongoing Inclusivity Advisory Committee to create leadership opportunities for members of underrepresented groups in Norman; and securing membership in the Government Alliance on Race and Equity.
•Plan and provide for the safety of marginalized residents in city government spaces through cultural competency training, de-escalation training, and planned containment and mitigation of racist and xenophobic attacks on inclusivity initiatives in the city.
•Direct funding from the CARES Act and any future federal funding made available to Norman towards the most vulnerable residents of our city, specifically those who do not own real estate. For 78 years under sundown enforcement, property was distributed in Norman exclusively based on whiteness. We now recognize that this was fundamentally inequitable. But the wrong was never materially redressed. The COVID-19 crisis demands urgent action and material aid to those who have been wronged by past and present inequities. For example, this funding can be used for legal and rental assistance to those facing eviction, housing insecurity, and homelessness in Norman.
We don’t need city leadership to be perfect. We need them to be accountable. We need them to be humble enough to recognize and acknowledge their proximity to whiteness provides access to power, which enables these unjust systems to persist. Norman city leaders need to respond to racial injustice in a manner that makes further talk unnecessary. Until Mayor Clark takes material action to redress these wrongs, NC4RJ will continue to withhold our endorsement of her as Mayor of Norman.
Norman Citizens for Racial Justice (NC4RJ) is a local advocacy and action-oriented affiliation of grassroots activists in the Norman area founded in October of 2017.