by Contributing Writer Jadan Janak
In May, the United States and the world reached a boiling point. With the COVID-19 crisis, lack of substantial support from local, state, and national governments and the refusal to protect citizens, the public became incensed following the additional murders of Black people by the state. Questions about the validity of police reform surfaced once again. As a result, the Movement for Black Lives and concerned citizens have begun calling for the defunding of the prison-industrial complex and the reallocation of those funds towards more actualized public safety.
As these calls for defunding the police have swept the nation, Tulsa’s electoral leadership is at a crossroads. Will we continue to be behind the times or will we step into the future? At this juncture, there are multiple mayoral candidates with the two primary frontrunners being the incumbent and his progressive challenger. In the mayoral incumbent’s campaign materials, he has stressed his impeccable public safety record. He states that under his leadership, “We’ve secured funding for the greatest surge in staffing for the Police Department in Tulsa history.” For the current mayor, public safety means the increased surveillance and policing of Tulsa residents. As we learned from last year’s Special Meetings on the Equality Indicators’ Report, policing in Tulsa (and everywhere else) differs based on zip code, race, gender and sexual orientation, to name a few factors. Despite this rather pedestrian revelation, the current occupant of City Hall remains steadfast that increasing police funding is necessary to achieving a safer city.
Safety is a much-debated term in politics. For some, it is measured by the sum total presence of police, prisons, detention facilities, privatized security forces and surveillance technology used to monitor the public. While others see safety differently, it should, instead, be measured by everyone’s ability to access quality food, shelter, public education and freedom of movement. If we consider safety in this regard, we will come to see that Tulsa, the city we all love and enjoy, is not safe. Some Tulsans do have access to these cornerstones of life but the vast majority of our fellow Tulsans and Oklahomans do not. According to Hunger Free Oklahoma, 54 out of 77 counties in Oklahoma are considered food deserts. Folks lacking shelter are all around us, particularly in downtown Tulsa. With the exacerbating pressures of COVID-19, our education system is in crisis right now as school systems determine how to continue educating our youth in the midst of a wide technology gap and unsafe conditions for in-person instruction. Broadening our lens to the federal level, of the 7 million people under correctional control and surveillance in the United States, over 3 million are under probation, an under explored aspect of the United States justice system. Indeed, our city, state and nation are not simply unequal but are unsafe.
If we take public health and life as sacred to governance, we must divest from funding security, surveillance and policing. Though these mechanisms proclaim to keep us free from harm, they actually compromise safety for all. We have experienced four years of mayoral leadership that has been ineffective in promoting community welfare. From his comments on the murder of Terence Crutcher, his support of a public rally in the middle of a pandemic and his continued alliance with the corrupt and racist Fraternal Order of Police, he has proven himself ill-equipped to handle the magnitude of community safety and wellness. It is time we explore other options. It is time we seriously consider defunding the police.
Photo credit: Joseph Rushmore