Pain from the loss of a family member, fear for children's lives and calls for change were expressed to the Little Rock Board of Directors by more than 20 people during an emotional public comment period Tuesday at City Hall.
The topic was the shooting of Bradley Blackshire by Little Rock police officer Charles Starks last month. Residents addressed the city board for over an hour at the end of the board's regular meeting -- more than twice the usual amount of time allotted for the "citizen communication" portion of the meeting.
Residents filled seats in the boardroom and lined the walls, and some stood out in the hallway. Several, including children, wore black T-shirts with Blackshire's photo and the phrase "Fly High Bradley" in red letters.
Blackshire was killed on Feb. 22 when Starks approached the car Blackshire was driving, which had been reported stolen, in a parking lot near West 12th Street and Kanis Road. According to dashboard-camera video of the incident released on March 7, Blackshire did not comply with Starks' commands to exit the vehicle.
Instead, the car rolled forward and grazed Starks' hip, the footage shows. Starks fired at least three times, then stepped in front of the moving car and shot about 12 more times from atop the car's hood, according to the video.
Blackshire died at the scene. Starks was relieved of duty three days after the shooting. The criminal investigative file was sent to Prosecuting Attorney Larry Jegley's office the same day the video was released, and the administrative investigation is ongoing.
Some speakers Tuesday night called for Starks' arrest or said the video released of the shooting showed a "coldblooded murder," while others called out ward representatives for not reaching out to their communities after the shooting.
"Maybe you may not understand how critical it is when young men lose their fathers, especially in this manner," Rizelle Aaron told the mayor and board. "If [Starks] is not charged, we are going to do everything legally possible to hold this city accountable."
Aaron said he planned to meet with organizations, including the Black Panther Party to continue activism in demanding justice. He said community members would "shut down" the Pulaski County Circuit Court and City Hall, and show up at city directors' homes if necessary.
People who spoke ranged from Blackshire's mother and stepfather, Kimberly Blackshire-Lee and DeAngelo Lee, to his friends and cousins to people who said they had never met Blackshire but feared that they or their children would be killed by police.
Dawn Jeffrey, director of community relations for local civil-rights community organization Seeds of Liberation, said she knew that city directors were not responsible for pressing charges but elected officials should be vocal and the community was losing faith in law enforcement. She called out her representative, Ward 6 City Director Doris Wright, by name.
"If y'all can't speak up for the injustices that are happening in our community, then you need to step down," Jeffrey said.
Nearly everyone who spoke was met with applause and calls of affirmation from others. Many praised Blackshire-Lee's involvement in the community.
"I didn't come up here to point fingers at the Little Rock Police Department or at the city board or anybody at this particular time," Blackshire-Lee said, tearing up as she spoke. "We need something to change in our city or this is not going to get better, it's going to get worse."
The only city board member to respond from the dais during the meeting was Ward 1 City Director Erma Hendrix, who said she agreed with the speakers after asking how much time was left in the public comment period. She highlighted her longtime involvement with the NAACP and was met with retorts from attendees, saying they hadn't seen action. Wright was seen later speaking privately with Blackshire-Lee.
After all residents who chose to speak had finished, Little Rock Mayor Frank Scott Jr. took a moment to compose his thoughts and spoke slowly. He said he had prayed with Blackshire's family and urged the prosecuting attorney's office to expedite the investigation.
"It's more than prayer. Faith without works is dead, and as a son of this city, knowing Kim ... I know your fabric and I know your cloth and your work. As a city, we have to make certain that we embody trust," he said.
Scott told City Attorney Tom Carpenter that he wanted on his desk Friday an ordinance to establish a citizen review board to oversee the Police Department.
The mayor then moved that a scheduled executive session to make appointments to city boards and commissions be moved to next week's agenda meeting. The motion passed, and the meeting adjourned.
When asked if she believed her concerns were heard Tuesday evening, Blackshire-Lee said she felt that the directors and the mayor were listening.
"Everything that I wanted the city to hear, I think they heard tonight," she said.
Though the people who filed into the boardroom well outnumbered the seats available, Blackshire-Lee said there were many more supporting their cause who did not attend the session.
"We knew not everybody could fit in that room," she said. "That was just a part of them."
David Coleman, however, said he was concerned that fewer of the directors visibly reacted to the testimonies of the Blackshire family and the community.
"This was a voicing of pain," Coleman, one of the 21 people who spoke, said in an interview. "I don't think it was heard. I think they just wanted it to be over."
Coleman, who said this moment is pivotal to the city, recounted in his speech before the board injustices from city's past.
"Little Rock has the opportunity that it missed in 1927 and in 1957 to do what's right," he said, referring to the lynching of John Carter, who was hanged and burned at the intersection Ninth street and Broadway and to the Little Rock Nine. "Each of you pledged allegiance to that flag. That flag means to me what it means to you."
Little Rock has been conducting a search for its next police chief since the mid-November departure of former Chief Kenton Buckner, who left to lead the Syracuse, N.Y., department.
In an interview after the board meeting, Scott said he would announce the new chief of police this week.
Scott and his advisory team selected four finalist candidates from the initial 51 applicants, including two internal candidates. The four finalists are Little Rock Assistant Chiefs Hayward Finks and Alice Fulk; Todd Chamberlain, former Los Angeles police commander; and Chief Keith Humphrey of Norman, Okla.
Metro on 03/20/2019
Print Headline: VIDEO: Little Rock chiefs get earful on police shootings