On Oct. 20, the University of Mississippi's Everybody Loves Lincoln club hosted an event over Zoom discussing the "Defund the Police" movement versus the "Back the Blue" movement. The event was attended virtually, with viewers capped at 40 people.
The event included a monologue from comedian Tehran Von Ghasri and a forum that included panelists such as David May, a sociology professor and data scientist from Mississippi State University; Sykina Butts, a senior English major from Delta State University and member of the Social Justice club on campus there; Jeff McCutchen, chief of the Oxford Police Department and Lauren Moses, a senior political science and economics major from Ole Miss and member of the Young Americans for Freedom club.
The event began with the aforementioned comedic monologue from Von Ghasri, who riffed on various topics and current events. He took aim at Democrats and Republicans alike, as well as the state of American discourse. He spoke about the partisan nature of America and the need for unity.
"Left wing, right wing, it's all the same bird! If one side sinks, we both sink," Von Ghasri said.
Von Ghasri also commented on the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the need for masks.
"Wear the stupid mask," Von Ghasri said. "I love the mask, the mask works for me! Because I'm not good-looking like y'all are!"
After Von Ghasri's opening monologue, one of the organizers Jackie Koppell introduced the panel. They were posited questions in turn, sometimes the same question, and each given the chance to answer them in full.
Moses and Butts were asked what exactly their positions mean to them, i.e backing the blue vs. defunding the police. Moses spoke on her support for law enforcement, citing their role in protecting citizens in high-crime communities.
"We support law enforcement officers. We support them being in communities that are high crime, to help protect and bring sanity and safety back to those areas," Moses said. "It really means that what they're doing is the best they can be doing. Of course, there will always be changes that need to be made in law enforcement, but generally, we think that they're doing a good job."
Butts was not as convinced. When asked what "defunding the police" meant, she spoke on the prioritization of funding in struggling communities and how it should be going to alternative departments as opposed to the police.
"Defund the police to me is when you have an impoverished community and your first thing to help that community is to invest in the police system. Then I need to look at your officials," Butt said. "If your community is lacking the resources it needs for children, they don't have recreational activities, and the people there are barely making a living and your immediate reaction is to get more police officers and get them military equipment, then I don't think that money should go towards that."
McCutchen was then asked what his gut reaction to the phrase "defund the police" was. As the chief of the police department in Oxford, McCutchen was frustrated since he sees first-hand what the department does for the community.
"I see on a daily basis what police officers are doing and how we are investing back into our communities. Those that have mental health concerns or are homeless, I see that on a daily basis," McCutchen said. "It is tough to say from a police perspective, 'Hey, defund us.' I think we need more funding, better training and better hiring tactics. We need more accountability."
The event went on for another hour, with questions being asked and answered in a respectful manner. Afterwards, the organizers praised the civility, despite everyone having different perspectives on policing. Jackie Koppell, an organizer and the main question moderator, spoke on the future of the conversation.
"I'm really excited about what this means as a beginning of a conversation and a way of communicating that this can be respectful, and we can have plenty of places where we agree to disagree but that we understand a bit more deeply," Koppell said.