FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Contact: State Rep. Mike Osburn
Phone: (405) 557-7360
Contact: State Rep. Monroe Nichols
Phone: (405) 557-7391
State Reps. Mike Osburn, R-Edmond, and Monroe Nichols, D-Tulsa, along with state Sens. Adam Pugh, R-Edmond, and Kevin Matthews, D-Tulsa held a bipartisan, bicameral study on race relations and policing practices in Oklahoma today before the House Government Efficiency Committee, of which Osburn is the chair.
The study, which took place at the Oklahoma History Center, included a discussion of race relations and policing reforms as well as the ripple effects on incarceration, social safety nets, education, the workforce and other areas. It included presenters from the National Council of State Legislatures, the Iowa Legislature where unanimous policing reforms were implemented earlier this summer, as well as police chiefs from Tulsa and Oklahoma City and several community and civic members who gave a broad spectrum of views on race relations in the state and areas of suggested reform.
“Race and policing tend to roll into so many other social issues such as incarceration rates, education, the work force and so many others,” Osburn said. “We would be negligent as leaders if we were not willing to have conversations about racism especially if entire groups of people say they feel disenfranchised by our laws and practices. With that said, I will reiterate that I fully support our police and always will, but I know that our police departments, too, see that there is always room for improvement. This issue is something that has the entire Legislature’s attention, and we plan to use today’s study and others that have been held to take action and draft legislation that will make a difference for all Oklahomans and our state. Racism is not a political or partisan issue but a matter of the heart, and while we can always do better in government, this also will require individuals to consider their own beliefs and actions as well.”
Nichols added, "Before the study, I made it clear my intent to have a policy conversation instead of a political one. What I heard today is that putting politics aside is the only way forward to fully address the systemic challenges we face as it relates to race in Oklahoma and America. I am encouraged that other states are beginning to address part of the issue by enacting common sense police reforms that maintain the integrity of the law enforcement profession and demand accountability. The disparities in the criminal justice system are consistent with disparities in education, health, wealth, and overall opportunity. In a state and country that believes in freedom and equality, we have a moral obligation to address these issues because lives and our very credibility is at stake.
“I look forward to continuing this work with my colleagues across the aisle. Oklahoma can both lead the country in accountability and also be the best place in America to serve as a member of law enforcement, but to get there, we must do this work together."
Pugh said he wanted to be a part of today’s discussion because it’s incredibly important to all Oklahomans.
“Our nation’s Constitution says that one of the goals of we the people is to establish justice,” Pugh said. “That is not to establish racial justice, social justice or economic justice – but justice for all. Justice so that everyone has equal access and the ability to become all that God created them to be. To do that, we must follow discussions such as the one that took place today as well as the ones that preceded it and the ones that will follow, with action. I trust that we were all here today to learn and to gather ideas that will help us solve issues as we move forward together.”
Matthews said, “This issue being resolved would save lives and create better use of taxpayer dollars in education, healthcare, incarceration levels, and policing across the state. Race relations is human relations, and we need to have these courageous conversations to address the ‘elephant in the room’ that keep us divided along racial, political, and ideological lines. My belief is that these bipartisan supported studies will lead to policies and funding priorities that reduce the current disparities that currently exist in a way that we all experience the benefits of our system of government in a more equitable way.”
Presenters at today’s study included:
- Amber Widgery, program principal at the National Council of State Legislatures, speaking remotely giving an overview of national police reform;
- Rep. Matt Windschitl, majority leader of the Iowa House of Representatives, speaking remotely on Iowa police reform;
- Kevin McCarthy, first assistant attorney general of the state of Iowa, speaking remotely on accountability provisions in the Iowa Legislature;
- Pastor Clarence Hill with Antioch Baptist Church of Norman, giving a perspective from the church;
- Tulsa Police Chief Wendell Franklin speaking remotely on Tulsa Police reform efforts;
- Wade Gourley, chief of the Oklahoma City Police Department, speaking on training standards and reform efforts within that department;
- J.D. Younger, chief of police with the City of Edmond, speaking on police and community relations;
- Mark Holden, former senior vice president of Koch Industries and chairman of the board of Americans for Prosperity Foundation, presenting remotely giving recommendations for future legislation;
- Estela Hernandez, Oklahoma State Board of Education member.