Listen to this article here
Attorney Mark Myles knows there’s never been a person like him elected to represent one of Oklahoma’s 77 counties as district attorney. That isn’t stopping him from running for DA of Oklahoma County, home to Oklahoma City.
If elected, Myles said it would be a “culture shift” for the DA’s Office. With a progressive platform, Myles wants to take the state from being one of the highest in incarceration rates, to becoming number one in diversion programs.
“The question is who do we need to send to prison,” Mark Myles said in an interview with The Black Wall Street Times.
With a background as both a prosecutor and defense attorney, attorney Myles said he’s “perfectly suited” for the job. Previously, he ran unsuccessfully for Oklahoma attorney general in 2018, along with a U.S. Senate race in 2010. But he doesn’t see those losses as failures. He sees them as opportunities that have given him more name recognition in Oklahoma’s most racially diverse county. If elected, he would replace current DA David Prater, who is not seeking reelection.
Breaking barriers that maintain the status quote drives Mark Myles forward.
“There’s never been a Black district attorney in the state of Oklahoma,” Myles said. And there’s only a handful of Black assistant district attorney’s across the state. Yet, Myles said his own experience as an ADA in Logan County “gave him the confidence” to throw his hat in the ring for DA of OK County.
From incarceration rates and an overcrowded, deadly jail, to police accountability, abortion and the death penalty, Myles said he’s more sensitive to the notion that Black, brown and poor Oklahomans are disproportionately prosecuted. He wants to change that.
In May, the Oklahoman reported the number of pre-trial detainees who’ve died at the notorious Oklahoma County Jail this year alone rose to eight.
Oklahoma City Police Department remains one of the most deadly in the nation, according to a peer-reviewed study from the Lancet using data between 1980 and 2019.
And, in a state that regularly pushes back against government overreach, Oklahoma utilizes the death penalty at a higher rate than any other state and higher than many countries, according to Death Penalty Information Center. Notably, though Blacks make up only about 8% of the population, they are grossly overrepresented in Oklahoma prisons, jails and on death row.
“Why is that the case,” attorney Mark Myles asked. He said leaders need to prioritize alternatives to incarceration and utilize prison for violent offenders.
“Justice, fairness and accountability”
Myles said most people sitting in jail are poor folx who are unable to afford bond. He’s been a crime victim in the past. “But the question is, if we can put them back out on the street and let their case go through the system, maybe we can do a better job of not overfilling the jail.”
After the U.S. Supreme Court struck down federal protections of reproductive rights across the country, states like Oklahoma have trigger laws in place, making it a felony to perform an abortion or help someone receive an abortion. But Myles said, if elected, he wouldn’t prosecute abortion cases.
“I’m running to advocate for justice, fairness and accountability in the criminal justice system,” Mark Myles told The Black Wall Street Times.
He wants to work on reducing the disparities around incarcerated Black men, and he wants to place a moratorium on the death penalty.
“When you sentence someone to death and then you kill them you can’t go back to fix that problem,” Myles said, highlighting Julius Jones, an innocent Black man who narrowly avoided state-sanctioned murder in November of 2021 but who remains imprisoned, and Richard Glossip, a White man still on death row with overwhelming evidence of his innocence.
Primary election on June 28, General election on November 8
Mark Myles, a Democrat, faces Democrat Vicki Behenna in the primary election on June 28. Behenna spent decades as a prosecutor and currently works in private practice while serving as the executive director of the Oklahoma Innocence Project.
Weeks ago, online news outlet NonDoc held a debate between the two.
During the debate, Behenna admitted to voting for Mark Myles’ opponent, Republican Mike Hunter, in the 2018 Oklahoma attorney general election. Hunter eventually resigned in the summer of 2021 due to an apparent extramarital affair. The current OK County DA, David Prater, is retiring after 16 years and won’t seek reelection.
The winner of the Democratic primary on June 28 will go on to face a Republican candidate in the November 8 general election.
“Probably the reason people are disenchanted with government is because they don’t participate in the political process,” Myles said. “When you don’t participate, you give your power away.”
Early voting for the primary election begins Thursday, June 23 and Friday, June 24 from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Saturday, June 25 from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Voters can also cast ballots on election day on June 28 from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
To find your polling place, click here.