Culture & the Family

Ray Carter | December 1, 2021

‘Defund the police’ touted at Paycom-sponsored program

Ray Carter

Efforts to “defund the police” and claims that Oklahoma district attorneys are racially biased were touted by speakers at a recent race-relations program sponsored by Paycom and other state business entities.

“It is possible to defund the police,” said Tiffany T. Crutcher, executive director of the Terence Crutcher Foundation and an official with the Demanding A Just Tulsa Coalition.

She said that a “defund the police” effort does not require full elimination of police forces, although Crutcher said she has “started to inch toward abolition.” Instead, she said “defund the police” efforts should involve diverting significant amounts of funding away from policing to other things such as mental-health workers and social-service workers.

“If we would just actually reallocate some of the funding from the militarization of policing and invest in mental-health programs and drug diversion programs and whatever, invest in our schools, then we can break the school-to-prison pipeline, and we can set our officers up for success so they can go and fight the real issues, and that’s violent crime,” Crutcher said.

While “defund the police” efforts were embraced in several cities nationwide starting in 2020, that trend has since reversed due in part to the perceived impact of those efforts. In October, Crime and Justice News at Arizona State University reported that “in cities across the nation, police departments are getting their funding back and some are even seeing an increase in budgets.”

“Officials have reversed their stance on defunding to combat the rise in violent crime in major cities after the mass exodus of officers from police forces under political pressure,” Crime and Justice News reported.

Crutcher was one of several speakers at the November session of Advancing Oklahoma, which is described as “a lengthy conversation about race and race relations in Oklahoma.” The program’s presenting sponsor is Paycom, joined by a dozen other foundations and state businesses who serve as lower-tier sponsors. The program is offered to the members of Leadership Oklahoma, The Oklahoma Academy, Oklahoma Center for Nonprofits, Oklahoma Center for Community and Justice, and the Oklahoma Hall of Fame.

‘Inherent Bias’

During the November session, Kris Steele, executive director of The Education and Employment Ministry, said that two individuals can be arrested in the same county on the same day for the same crime but face very different outcomes based on their ability to post bail.

An individual who posts bail will be able to retain employment and housing and appear in court in appropriate clothes, Steele said. The individual who does not post bail will be in jail for as much as 90 days before a court hearing and will likely be fired from his job, lose his home, and possibly lose custody of children. Steele said the individual who does not post bail typically appears in court “in a yellow jumpsuit that says ‘inmate’ on the back of it in handcuffs” and will “look the part of a person who is engaged in criminal activity.”

Steele said statistics show that people who do not post bail are seven times more likely to face a harsher sentence than an individual facing the same charges who posts bail.

Steele said a racial minority who fails to post bail is 11 times more likely to face a harsher sentence.

Steele indicated those outcomes are the result of prosecutorial racial bias.

“Let me just make an observation,” Steele said. “We have 27 elected district attorneys in the state of Oklahoma. Every office reflects the personality of its leadership, I can guarantee you that. Every single district attorney is white. Every single district attorney elected to office is white, comes from a middle-class background. There is inherent bias in both the charging decisions and the sentencing decisions that are handed out in Oklahoma on a daily basis.”

At one point, Steele said prosecutors are “reliant upon trumped-up charges to get more in the way of fees and fines to fund their offices.”

Steele indicated that discrimination is a built-in feature of Oklahoma’s law-enforcement and prosecution efforts and called for the entire system to be jettisoned and replaced.

“I spent the first 15 years of my work saying that there are all of these unintended consequences in reference to our criminal legal system,” said Steele, a former state lawmaker and Speaker of the Oklahoma House of Representatives. “I don’t say that anymore. I think the system is doing exactly what it was intended to do, and I’m not so sure that it’s not time to go back and have a complete reimagine conversation of what justice is.”

Crutcher voiced similar views.

“We all know the role that race and racism plays in the criminal legal system, and we’ve seen it through executions in this state where blacks are more likely to be sentenced to death than any other race,” Crutcher said.

Crutcher noted the last three men executed in Oklahoma were all black. Those three men were Clayton Derrell Lockett, Charles Frederick Warner, and John Marion Grant.

In 1999, as part of a robbery, Lockett kidnapped two women, participated in gang rape, and twice shot one of the women. When the woman did not die immediately from her gunshot wounds, she was buried alive.

Warner was sentenced to death after he raped and killed an 11-month-old infant girl in 1997. Officials determined the child’s skull, jaw and ribs were fractured, her liver was lacerated, and her spleen and lungs were bruised.

While serving prison sentences for four armed robberies, Grant attacked and killed a cafeteria worker at the Dick Conner Correctional Center in 1998. He dragged the woman into a closet and stabbed her 16 times with a homemade shank.

Steele said justice is rare within Oklahoma’s legal system.

“I don’t even use the word ‘justice’ anymore when I say criminal legal system,” Steele said. “I used to say criminal justice system. I don’t say criminal justice anymore because there’s not much justice taking place in the current system. Perhaps it’s time to completely reconsider and reimagine what justice is in Oklahoma.”

He also said there is little difference between law-abiding Oklahomans and those who are behind bars in state prisons.

“If you don’t know someone who is involved in the criminal legal system, get to know them,” Steele said. “You’ll find out that the only difference between the person who is involved in the criminal legal system and the person who is not is that the person who is either got caught or got caught up. The reality is ‘but for the grace of God go I.’ It could be any of us.”

Ray Carter Director, Center for Independent Journalism

Ray Carter

Director, Center for Independent Journalism

Ray Carter is the director of OCPA’s Center for Independent Journalism. He has two decades of experience in journalism and communications. He previously served as senior Capitol reporter for The Journal Record, media director for the Oklahoma House of Representatives, and chief editorial writer at The Oklahoman. As a reporter for The Journal Record, Carter received 12 Carl Rogan Awards in four years—including awards for investigative reporting, general news reporting, feature writing, spot news reporting, business reporting, and sports reporting. While at The Oklahoman, he was the recipient of several awards, including first place in the editorial writing category of the Associated Press/Oklahoma News Executives Carl Rogan Memorial News Excellence Competition for an editorial on the history of racism in the Oklahoma legislature.

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