As 42 Oklahoma City police Academy recruits were pinned with freshly minted badges in a graduation ceremony on Thursday, church walls separated two distinct crowds who gathered downtown for entirely different reasons.
Inside First Church, 131 NW 4, more than 700 cheered for those who earned probationary officer status after more than seven months of rigorous police training. Outside, roughly 75 protestors sounded their displeasure over the graduation ceremony’s scheduled, then canceled, guest speaker, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder.
Plans were originally in place for Holder to speak at the event, but he opted out early Thursday, Oklahoma City police Capt. Dexter Nelson said. Holder was replaced by U.S. District Judge Vicki Miles-LaGrange.
Nelson said an estimated 200 to 300 protestors had planned to gather across from the church on the sidewalk of N Robinson. However, Rep. Paul Wesselhoft, R-Moore, said a large number of those people did not show up when Holder announced his cancellation. Regardless of turnout, Wesselhoft counted the protest as a victory for those who oppose Holder’s political actions and beliefs.
“I think it was very understood that people could come together using their First Amendment right to assemble and speak, and that’s what we did,” Wesselhoft said. “We had a direct impact on the highest law official in America. That’s not small stuff.”
Extra security measures remained in place, as police officers surrounded the church and bomb-squad dogs secured the area. A Justice Department spokesman told the Associated Press that Holder’s last-second change of plans was due to a late departure from Washington, D.C. Holder reportedly still planned to arrive in Oklahoma City, but it was unclear for what purpose.
‘A life of service’
Miles-LaGrange, chief judge in the western district of Oklahoma in Oklahoma City since 2008, opened the ceremony with a speech that thanked the officers of recruit class 131 for their dedication to public service.
“There’s so much more ahead for each and every one of you we know personally, and especially in this context, professionally,” Miles-LaGrange said. “It’s an extraordinary pleasure for me to congratulate the 42 of you ... You should be commended for your tenacity and your toughness.”