As the already contentious relationship between law enforcement and African Americans in Ferguson, Missouri, turned violent last week, it raised questions over the relationship between police and the black community across the country.
“I think the relationship [between police and African Americans], over time, has gotten far better than how it used to be,” said Ward 7 Councilman John Pettis when asked about the situation in Oklahoma City.
The comparisons between Ferguson and Oklahoma City are few. OKC is much larger and has a smaller percentage of African American residents (15 percent). But Pettis’ ward includes the city’s largest concentration of black residents and he said the police is often a topic of discussion between him and his constituents.
“Is it perfect? No, I would have to say it isn’t perfect” said Pettis, who is the council’s lone African American member. “But I think we are getting better.”
Pettis said he has done several police ride alongs during his time as a councilman and will often pull over when he sees a lot of police activity in his ward.
“It’s good for the community to see their councilman interacting in a positive note [with police],” Pettis said. “There is a negative view sometimes of the police department [in my community].”
Pettis also referenced the police department’s citizen advisory board as a reason why he views the relationship between minorities and police as improving. The 11-member board is made up of mostly minority citizens and reviews investigations when there is a citizen complaint.
Pettis said the events in Ferguson were being closely followed by African Americans in Oklahoma City and he believes the situation points to misconduct by the police officer who shot an unarmed 18-year-old. Pettis also believes the situation would play out differently in Oklahoma City.
“I don’t agree with how that particular police department [in Ferguson] is handling things,” Pettis said. “But I think Oklahoma City would handle things a little bit different.”
Continue to follow Oklahoma Gazette this week as we explore the relationship between police and the city’s minority citizens, along with a look at minority representation in government across the Metro.