The membership of Gov. Mary Fallin’s new task force to study justice reform lacks diversity.
— KOKH FOX 25 (@OKCFOX) August 31, 2016
The 17-member board doesn’t include one person of color, according to state Rep. George Young, an Oklahoma City Democrat. In a statement that appeared on the local Facebook page of the Showing Up for Racial Justice organization, Young made these points:
I am disappointed in our Governor’s inability to find and appoint someone of color to her Justice Reform Task Force. This is important to the welfare of our state and our citizens. Once again citizens of color are reminded of the statistics concerning our incarceration rates, but are denied a seat at the table, which could help in understanding and providing leadership in improving our criminal justice system. Thank you, Governor, for appointing 17 qualified individuals without finding one of color.
Here’s a local news story that lists the members of the task force, which mostly include public officials, including former House Speaker Kris Steele, a strong advocate for social justice reform. The task force also includes the presidents of the Oklahoma City and Tulsa chambers of commerce.
Any type of committee studying social justice or criminal justice or corrections reform obviously has to deal with the institutionalized racism that leads to the high incarceration rate of African American people, especially black males. It seems like a no-brainer that a large task force devoted to this issue would include not just one but several African Americans in the local community.
The rising rate of incarceration and the racial disparities in that rate in general is this country’s shame. Here’s a fact sheet published by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) about the issue, which, among many startling statistics, notes: “African Americans are incarcerated at nearly six times the rate of whites.”
As we all know, Oklahoma has one of the highest incarceration rates in the country, which drains money from public education funding and social agencies. Oklahoma had the second overall incarceration rate in the country on a per capita basis in 2014. It leads the nation in female incarceration. A recent report also shows Oklahoma has the highest incarceration rate for black males in the country on a per capita basis.
As Young points out, the statistics about racial disparities in sentencing and incarceration are often cited publicly and are widely available.
So why are people of color getting “denied a seat at the table” to study, discuss and find solutions to this problem in Oklahoma? It should seem obvious to anyone that the same institutionalized racism that underpins the high incarceration rate of African Americans was also behind the make-up or selection of the task force.
There are some decent and qualified people on the task force, which has the potential to do some good here. These people need to speak out about the lack of diversity on their committee and then do something about it.