Community leaders examine race, unity during panel session sponsored by Stronger Together OKC, The Oklahoman
In the months after police killings of unarmed black men in Ferguson, Mo., Baltimore and New York, the Rev. Ilinda Jackson began worrying more about her son.
Her son, Marcus Jackson, works as a youth leader, organizing programs in schools and heading up The Bridge, a community program in northeast Oklahoma City. He spends a considerable amount of time on the road for work, often traveling with other groups of young black men.
After demonstrations broke out in Ferguson, Baltimore and elsewhere, Jackson began asking her son about where he was going, when he would be home and what he was wearing. She told him not to play his music too loud, not to go anywhere alone, not to stand out.
Although she knew Marcus, 29, would be the last person to cause trouble, she found herself doing a lot more praying and a lot more worrying.
“One of the things that really began to affect black families is the fear that my child is next,” Jackson said. “And it can happen at random, anytime, anywhere.”
Jackson, pastor of The Secret Place Community Church, spoke Thursday evening during a panel discussion at Northeast Regional Health and Wellness Campus. The discussion was a part of a dinner conversation on race and unity organized by Stronger Together OKC in partnership with The Oklahoman. Stronger Together OKC is an ecumenical Christian initiative that seeks to foster relationships across racial and cultural lines.
Capt. Paco Balderrama, a public information officer with the Oklahoma City Police Department, acknowledged the fear black residents often have of the police. It's disappointing those residents feel that way, but it's a problem that needs to be addressed, said Balderrama, who spoke during the panel discussion.
“The fear is real,” he said. “… It's sad that you would fear that much for your kids to just go out on the streets.”
Balderrama encouraged residents not to let the national media dictate what goes on in Oklahoma City. He noted that, unlike cities like Baltimore, no large, violent demonstrations broke out in Oklahoma City after former police officer Daniel Holtzclaw was arrested and accused of sexually assaulting 13 black women in northeast Oklahoma City. Balderrama credited the community with making sure the response to those crimes didn't boil over into violence.
Balderrama also acknowledged that many of the recent incidents in which police shot unarmed black men were troubling.
“I'm not here to defend all of law enforcement,” he said. “There's been shootings around this country that look bad. Look bad on video. They look bad to me.”
Lee Roland, former principal of Putnam City's Tulakes Elementary School, said incidents that end with young men lying dead in the street don't begin there. Often, those events are set in motion in school, when a teacher failed to see value in a student.
“I grieve at the loss of police officers, at the loss of my brothers and sisters,” Roland said. “But I believe if we work together on behalf of our children, starting at the school system, we can see this problem brought nearly to an end.”
Roland, who also serves as children's and family pastor at Cherokee Hills Baptist Church, said it's unfortunate that so many people are afraid of conversations about race. The only way for society to address issues of race is for conversations like Thursday evening's to continue, he said.
“We have to talk,” he said. “We have to talk. Stop being scared to talk.”
Silas Allen is a news reporter for The Oklahoman. He is a Missouri native and a 2008 graduate of the University of Missouri. Read more ›
Darla Slipke is an enterprise reporter for The Oklahoman. She is a native of Bristol, Conn., and a graduate of the University of Kansas. Slipke worked for newspapers in Kansas, Connecticut, North Carolina and Oklahoma, including a previous... Read more ›