Dozens of protesters shut down a major Little Rock intersection Tuesday evening as they demanded prosecution of a police officer who fatally shot 30-year-old Bradley Blackshire in February.
The protesters blocked off the intersection of West Markham Street and Broadway about 3:45 p.m., and they stayed in the roadway until nearly 5 p.m., congesting already heavy traffic in downtown Little Rock. After protesters demanded to speak with Mayor Frank Scott Jr. or Police Chief Keith Humphrey, the city's new chief of police addressed the crowd.
Rizelle Aaron, Blackshire's uncle and one of the protest organizers, spoke into a megaphone for the majority of an hour. Aaron demanded that the city outfit all Little Rock police officers with body cameras and institute a citizen review board for the Police Department; and that the mayor, prosecuting attorney and chief of police to terminate, prosecute and decertify officer Charles Starks, who fatally shot Blackshire on Feb. 22.
At 4:30 p.m., Humphrey addressed the protesters, flanked by two spokesmen for the department.
"Not once have I said I don't understand your frustrations," Humphrey said as a crowd clamored around him. "My hands are tied to a point ... but that doesn't mean I'm not going to address what this officer did."
On Feb. 22, Starks made a traffic stop on a stolen vehicle in the area of West 12th Street and Kanis Road. Surveillance video released to the public showed Blackshire, who was behind the wheel of the vehicle, did not comply with the officer's commands to exit the car and drove the vehicle forward, grazing the officer's hip.Gallery: Protesters seek answers in fatal shooting of Little Rock man
Starks fired his department-issued weapon at least 15 times during the encounter, striking and killing Blackshire, the videos showed. After opening fire, Starks stepped in front of the moving vehicle, which struck him.
In the 53 days since the shooting, Blackshire's family members have called for swift action from the police department. Starks was placed on administrative leave immediately after the shooting and relieved of duty days later.
According to police procedures, the department conducts two investigations for officer-involved shootings. The administrative investigation for the Blackshire shooting -- in which the department's internal affairs unit investigates whether the officer violated department policy -- is ongoing. The criminal investigation file was turned over to Prosecuting Attorney Larry Jegley's office on March 7.
Jegley's office will make the decision on whether to file criminal charges against the officer.
Jegley said Tuesday he has not yet made a decision on whether to prosecute Starks in the Blackshire case.
Aaron said repeatedly throughout the rally that if the protesters were ignored, they would gather at city hall, the state Capitol, and Jegley's residence. Another protest is scheduled for Monday at the Capitol, according to a Facebook page Aaron and other protest coordinators set up for the event.
More than 25 officers stood between City Hall and the protesters Tuesday, each with a hand full of zip-tie handcuffs ready at their hips. At 3:38 p.m., an officer stepped in front of the crowd with a megaphone and said the protest was unlawful, and that anyone who remained in the roadway risked being arrested.
No one was arrested during the rally.
Several more officers blocked off Broadway and West Markham Street for at least two blocks surrounding the protest.
Aaron and Humphrey spoke for fewer than 10 minutes as a crowd closed in around to listen. Humphrey said he understood the protesters' demands, but could not act faster than due process would allow.
Aaron said the family had been patient for nearly two months, and that Blackshire's mother, Kimberly Blackshire-Lee, deserved at least a timeline of when they could expect answers.
"While [Starks] is at home getting paid by our tax dollars," Aaron said, "Bradley is still in the grave."
Humphrey said a meeting between police department leaders and the U.S. Department of Justice has been scheduled to aid in the process of setting up a citizen review board, and noted that the city has issued a request for proposals for body cameras.
When asked multiple times if Humphrey could give an estimate of when the family members could expect a decision on whether Starks would be charged or fired, the chief said he could not predict that.
"Fifty-three days is a long time," Humphrey said. "But there is a process."
"A process?" said Blackshire-Lee, who had waded to the front of the crowd to speak to Humphrey. "[Starks] didn't give my son that. Bradley didn't get a process."
Aaron told Humphrey that he respected and appreciated the chief coming to speak with them and called the protest to a halt about 4:40 p.m. Traffic resumed in the intersection and across the bridge before 5 p.m.
Little Rock Pastor Malik Safir said the protesters chose the intersection because many of the people who have power in the Blackshire case work in the Pulaski County Courthouse and City Hall. Safir lamented the lack of religious leaders at the protest, saying ministers in black churches, specifically, should rally around Blackshire's slaying.
"As black ministers who believe in a God that liberates people ... why have no other black ministers responded?" Safir said. "We ask that the faith community demand justice, too."
After the protest, Aaron said he was dissatisfied with the police chief's answers.
"I would have liked to have what he says he can't give us -- a timeline," Aaron said. "They're asking us to be patient, but it's impossible to be patient forever."
Metro on 04/17/2019
Print Headline: VIDEO: Protesters block busy Little Rock intersection, demand prosecution of officer who fatally shot driver