Authorities made nearly 30 arrests of protesters with the Arkansas Poor People's Campaign over six weeks of events marking the revival of a movement launched by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968.
Each Monday, activists in Little Rock and about 35 other state capitals nationwide have rallied in opposition to laws that promote systemic poverty and racial discrimination. King was assassinated weeks before a major march for the campaign was scheduled to take place, and the movement lost steam until its revitalization 50 years later.
"Before this campaign fails, we'll all go to jail," rang one chant from inside the tunnel in front of the Arkansas Capitol on Monday, a refrain that has echoed in similar protests across the country.
Only a small percentage of protesters in Little Rock were arrested, according to officials. Solomon Burchfield, one of the campaign's organizers for Arkansas, estimated that between 80 and 110 people protested each Monday. A total of 28 arrests were made over six weeks, he said.
More than 2,000 arrests were made nationwide, according to Isabel Urbano, a spokesman for the campaign.
On May 14, the campaign's 2018 kickoff, Little Rock police arrested 15 people for blocking traffic on West Capitol Avenue, spokesman Steve Moore said. State Capitol Police made the other 13 arrests inside or on the grounds of the Capitol in the following weeks.
"Basically we let them have their peaceful protests until they start breaking the law," Moore said.
Chris Powell, a spokesman for the State Capitol Police, said the people the agency has arrested were violating the facility's protocol. The group was denied a permit to have its protest inside the building due to having previously had people go inside and refuse to leave, he said. The group was instead given a permit to protest on the Capitol steps.
On Monday, three people were escorted inside by police to deliver a letter to Gov. Asa Hutchinson's office. Once there, the two men and one woman did not obey orders to leave and were arrested shortly before 4 p.m. on charges of criminal trespassing, obstructing government operations and disorderly conduct, Powell said. Others arrested in previous weeks faced similar charges.
Police made five arrests a week earlier, when protesters stood in front of locked entrance doors to the Capitol building inside the tunnel, chanting "let us in" and refusing to move away. Those doors are used by the governor and other public officials.
State Capitol Police Chief Darrell Hedden said the protesters were not allowed into the building, which was otherwise open to the public, after they threatened to "shut it down" during a rally earlier in the day.
"That's a direct threat," Hedden said. "This is a working building."
The Rev. Frank LeBlanc, a Little Rock pastor who leads jail support for the campaign, said three people were arrested June 4, no one was arrested May 28 and two people were arrested May 21.
LeBlanc said the group collects bail money for those arrested from private donations and sales of T-shirts with the group's motto: "Fight poverty, not the poor."
The six-week revival will culminate in a rally in Washington, D.C., on Saturday, Burchfield said. But the campaign in Little Rock isn't over, he said, noting that the group will likely focus on community and voter outreach in the coming months, with more nonviolent civil disobedience on the horizon.
"I think we started what we set out to do," he said. "This was not a campaign, but the launch of a campaign."
Information for this article was contributed by John Moritz of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.
Metro on 06/19/2018
Print Headline: Anti-poverty rallies lead to 28 arrests in 6 weeks