Outrage and unrest following the killings of unarmed Black men and women at the hands of law enforcement has pushed the conversation about police brutality to the forefront as the 2020 election looms. The killing of George Floyd, the 2017 acquittal of a Tulsa officer in the shooting of Terence Crutcher and the police budget reduction in Norman this year are all shaping the way Oklahomans vote. Kateleigh Mills talked with two voters about these issues for Oklahoma Engaged.
MICHAEL PATTON: My name is Michael Patton. I’m age 62. I’m a lifelong Tulsan. I’ve grown up here and been part of the Tulsa community for a long time and my parents as well. My father was a 20-year police officer in the 60s and 70s, but also – through many of his friends and through many of my friends now who include on the force realize that almost every police officer is a great person. On the other hand – the few bad ones don’t deserve the respect of me. They don’t deserve the protection of the other ones. Just because they wear a badge doesn’t mean they’re a hero.
I have had some hard discussions with my father on this very topic. And it’s hard for me to explain to him that life is different now. It’s different than in the 60s and 70s when you were a police officer. You got to be a community police officer and stay on the sidelines in the football game and meet kids and be the good guy. And now the relationship with community and police is different.
When I went to the rallies this year for Black Lives Matter issues my poster was ‘Re-train the police.’ That’s what I think needed to happen. It wasn’t ‘Defund the police’ it wasn’t ‘Stop the police’ it was literally retrain them. Because in the testimony of Betty Shelby in that case, she was acquitted because she said she was trained to do that – and that’s the wrong attitude. Our police have become, in some cases, the military.
I don’t believe in single issue politics. I worry that a lot of times the social unrest becomes such a dealbreaker. I struggle with the appropriate response. I think a number of the police officers in the community – a small number of them – see that black men are the enemy and it bothers me. I don’t know what I can do with it at the ballot box – like I don’t know if I can make that my decision to vote for the mayor or governor or president because of how they respect this issue. But there is not, probably, a bigger more important thing for us to discuss in 2020 than race and how we deal with police brutality.
ROBERT WASOSKI: I am Robert Wasoski. I am currently the FOP president for the Norman Lodge, I used to be a patrol officer, training officer for the Norman Police Department and I am retired now and doing training full-time for new police officers.
I haven’t voted in while – I’d probably say 10 years. I’ve been very much disinterested in it. I really thought that my vote really didn’t matter – But after the last election in 2016 and then the goings on in Norman and how the city council’s going and just the general political turmoil in Norman – I thought I’d better get involved and I thought my vote should matter.
I’ve definitely seen the pendulum swing back and forth in favor of law enforcement and then, of course, against law enforcement – and I think given the totality of what’s been going on… You have a pandemic and you have a lockdown where people are shut in their homes and not allowed to have the freedom to do what they want to do, and then you have the George Floyd incident occur, and it’s kind of a perfect storm. It’s an election year, so obviously political motivation is high on both sides – so you put all those things together and you make a serious social, I guess, cocktail of unrest. And that can translate – and it has translated into riots and protests and things that have become violent and things that are also not violent.
Also the fear of the unknown of moving forward is how we’re going to get back to normal. You know, at what point is COVID-19 going to be a thing of the past and we can move forward and people can live their lives again and feel safe.
Kateleigh Mills produced this story for Oklahoma Engaged, an election project by NPR member stations in Oklahoma supported by the Inasmuch Foundation, the Kirkpatrick Foundation and Oklahoma Humanities.