Diversity and Community Engagement
The University of Mississippi

Everybody Loves Lincoln: Finding Common Ground on Common Issues

This blog post by OCE Team Leader & Communications Specialist Will Corley is a recap of the Everybody Loves Lincoln event held, Tuesday, October 20th, featuring comedian Tehran Von Ghasri and guest host Jackie Koppell who moderated a panel discussion to explore the debate between defunding the police and defending the blue.  

The topic up for discussion: policing. In the debate of “Defund the Police” v. “Back the Blue,” we brought together a comedian, a data scientist, a police chief, and student activists from both sides of the debate to shed light on their experiences with the other side, the hard facts behind the issues, and possible solutions to the problems we see in policing today. What resulted was a common love for community and a common need for understanding.

During this tumultuous year of pandemic, protests, and murder hornets, it has become the norm to look at extremes and become disheartened. That’s why Tehran Von Ghasri kicked off the dialogue with some light-hearted comedy regarding, well, everything going on this year. 

2020 may not seem like something to joke about, but Von Ghasri broke the tension by highlighting the ways we can all come together through humor. “Left wing, right wing, it’s the same bird,” Von Ghasri said, urging the audience to break away from stereotypes and listen to all perspectives. 

David May, professor and social science research fellow at the University of Mississippi, kicked off the panel discussion with hard numbers regarding police killings across the country and data specific to Mississippi. About 1,000 people are killed every year by police with 50% of those victims being white, 25% being black, and 18% being Latino/Hispanic, and while the percentage of white Americans killed by police is higher than others, 

May says that the number of black Americans killed by police is disproportionate to the black population of the U.S. Mississippi is in the top 10 states when it comes to the rate of police killings proportional to population size.

With this data in mind, host Jackie Koppell, turned to the student activists to discuss what their respective movements intend to achieve. Lauren Moses, senior and president of Young Americans for Freedom at the University of Mississippi, said that Back the Blue intends to support law enforcement and their presence in high-crime areas, and while changes might need to be made, law enforcement is an essential part of the security of our communities.

Sykina Butts, senior and Democracy in Action fellow at Delta State University, believes that funding should be focused on social services in impoverished communities as opposed to more policing. Defund the Police, in her view, means that communities have more resources they need to find jobs or care for children, not a higher police presence.

Jeff McCutchen, chief of the Oxford Police Department, shared his thoughts on Defund the Police, saying that it was “frustrating” from the point of view of the police because of the need he sees for additional police funding. 

“I see what officers are doing on a daily basis and how they are investing back into our community,” Chief McCutchen said. “We need better training, better hiring tactics, more accountability.”

The conversation went on to discuss the role of policing and the role of activism in creating change and peace. All agreed that activism and free speech are essential to our democracy and that being engaged in the electoral process is one of the most effective ways to voice one’s opinion. Also, there was a consensus that there needs to be more accountability in the police system.

You can watch the whole session along with Q & A on our YouTube (Engaged UM) and be on the lookout for future dialogues from Community Engagement.