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Debate Over Police Funding in Norman, Oklahoma, Results in Divided Town

Norman, Oklahoma, a largely white college town of 121,000 people with a history of racial oppression, recently came under pressure from racial justice activists after the all-white city council held two heated public hearings and then voted to divert $865,000 — or nearly 4 percent — of the police department’s proposed $23 million budget.

The move also caused some residents to wonder if the city has lost sight of its police abuse of Black people, particularly following the Memorial Day death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, which sparked national and global protests, NBC News reported.

However, while the Norman Police Department had already adopted some reform measures that prioritized community-oriented policing, protesters said those measures had not addressed their concerns about excessive force and racial profiling.

In the 343 times police used excessive force on people in the last five years, 14 percent of the targets were Black, according to department data.

NBC News reported that as some protesters complained about the presence of police officers in public schools, others cited the death of Marconia Kessee, 34, a homeless and mentally ill Black man who in January 2018 refused to leave a local hospital after being treated for a headache.

The hospital called Norman police, who dragged him away and charged him with trespassing. Although an internal investigation concluded officers did not contribute to Kessee’s death, he died in jail a few hours later.

The council agreed to take the protesters’ pleas under consideration and postponed its budget vote.

“When you are faced with so much heartache and anger and frustration from people largely disconnected from what’s happening in the city, it’s hard not to feel compelled to act,” City Council member Kate Bierman, who voted to redirect money meant for the police department, told NBC News.

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