By Jeff Harrison
Midwest City law enforcement officers and community members had plenty to chew on during a recent luncheon.
The group shared a meal and engaged in important conversations about race, institutional bias, and the way in which race factors into the community during a Breaking Bread event sponsored by the OK Justice Circle and the Midwest City Police Department.
OK Justice Circle is a group of faith leaders working to raise awareness in the faith community about criminal justice reform, challenges to the Oklahoma County Jail and related issues. The group hosts Breaking Bread events throughout the metro to bring people together.
“We believe that if we do that, especially over a meal, maybe we can develop friendships that move the needle,” said Jon Middendorf, senior pastor of OKC First Church of the Nazarene and member of OKC Justice Circle.
It was the group’s ninth event and second in Midwest City.
Police Chief Sid Porter attended one of the previous Breaking Bread events. He was moved by the experience and asked if they could have a similar event for new police officers in Midwest City. They hosted the first one in May 2022.
“When I went to this the first time it really made me think,” Porter said. “We just need to bring people together and interact with others who see things differently.”
Porter invited the group to host another event for first line supervisors on April 26. Both events were held at the Nick Harroz Community Center.
Officers were joined by a racially diverse group of community members for lunch and activities designed to help better understand one another.
One of those activities was a discussion between a Black man, Wayland Cubit, and a white police officer, Greg Wipfli. Cubit is a member of the OK Justice Circle and a former Oklahoma City police officer and Wipfli is an assistant police chief in Midwest City.
Wipfli spoke about a shooting that he was involved in while working as a security guard at a local credit union. In May 2006, Wipfli was off duty working an extra security job when a man with a gun walked into the credit union.
“He had the gun pointed at the tellers and the next thing I know, the slide on my gun is going back,” he said. “To this day, I can still see that picture and hear me talking to myself saying ‘Oh my God, I’m shooting this guy.’”
Wipfli said he hit the floor as the suspect fired back at him. He then fired three more shots at the suspect, who fell to the floor. Wipfli handcuffed the man and told him they were sending help.
“I had no idea if I hit him and I had no idea if I was hit,” Wipfli said. “I rolled him over and pulled his ski mask off and told him an ambulance was on its way.”
The robber was hit several times but lived.
Wipfli said the shooting took an emotional toll on him.
“It’s not like on TV when an officer is involved in a shooting and they’re back to work the next day,” he said. “It happened 17 years ago but it still wears on me.”
Cubit pointed out that the robber was Black and was wearing a mask. He asked Wipfli how he talks about race with officers during training.
Wipfli said they train to use force to stop destructive or violent behavior regardless of race or demographics.
“We see gray. We see a silhouette. We see people trying to hurt us and we’re going to deal with that portion of it and nothing else,” he said.
Wipfli said they make split-second decisions that have huge consequences. He said he’s leery of criticizing the actions of officers based on body cameras.
“You’re not there. You don’t taste it. You don’t smell it. You don’t have the emotions or the feel of it,” he said.
After the interview, the attendees answered questions with others at their tables. They included questions about fear of law enforcement among black and brown citizens, and how media and social media have impacted the relationships between law enforcement and black and brown citizens.
Each table later shared their responses with the larger group.
In addition to the activities, Porter thanked local pastors for their outreach and support in Midwest City. Each received a certificate of appreciation.