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LITTLE ROCK -- The fifth-consecutive night of protesting at the state Capitol was a short one Thursday, as organizers asked the protesters to go home two hours before the 8 p.m. Little Rock curfew.

The message was unity and justice, and music was played as the participants, numbering about 200, chatted with one another and applauded the speakers. Then around 6 p.m., after the protesters took a moment to pray for peace and unity while holding lit candles, they were asked to leave.

Most protesters left and the crowd quickly shrank to 50 or 60, with the last of those trickling out before 9 p.m.

In the first four nights of protests, crowds stayed well into the night. Police and Arkansas State Police troopers used tear gas to break up the rallies the first three nights and, although Wednesday night's protest was peaceful, it did not break up until well after the city curfew.

The protests were sparked by the death of George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man who died May 25 while in police custody in Minneapolis.

Organizer Shanelle Smith asked protesters several times Thursday to go home after the event had ended.

"This was a beautiful, peaceful protest and we want that to be what everyone sees," she told the crowd. "Don't let the media be able to twist this and have the headlines be about arrests."

Ginny Heisler, another protest organizer, said the group believes in changing the law, not breaking it.

Smith agreed.

"I want people to take away from today is that you can protest peacefully and that you can enact change with one heart and one mind," she said.

While there were no reports of protest-related arrests Thursday, law enforcement officers made five arrests at Wednesday night's event, Arkansas State Police spokesman Bill Sadler said Thursday.

The people arrested were all from Central Arkansas, from cities including Little Rock, North Little Rock, Sherwood and Conway, according to information provided by Sadler.

The arrests were made as law enforcement officers patrolled mainly in the central downtown area east of the Capitol. All occurred between 9 and 11 p.m.

One person arrested was in a vehicle and charged with driving while intoxicated. The others were on foot. All five were charged with obstructing governmental operations, which is related to violating the curfew.

Agencies that have comprised the unified command that Gov. Asa Hutchinson put in place by executive order to crack down on protesters include the Arkansas State Police, the Little Rock Police Department, the North Little Rock Police Department, the Sherwood Police Department, the Pulaski County sheriff's office, Arkansas Highway Police, Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, the FBI and the Drug Enforcement Administration.

Officials said Thursday there are 570 soldiers and airmen from the Arkansas National Guard on duty in response to the protest.

Initially 100 members of the Guard were deployed Tuesday night. The governor called up nearly 500 more to be trained in "civil disturbance scenarios" to work in conjunction with the state police, the governor said in a statement Thursday. Those 500 have not been deployed.

Activation of the additional Guard members was initially reported by the Arkansas Times.

Those who have been called up are soldiers from the 216th Military Police Company; airmen from the 188th Security Forces Squadron; airmen from the 189th Security Forces Squadron; soldiers from the 39th Infantry Brigade Combat Team; and the 87th Troop Command, Mason said.

"Their duties include supporting the unified command under my emergency order," Hutchinson said in an emailed statement. "The assignments include prevention of looting and protection of public and private property from destruction."

Hutchinson issued the emergency order Tuesday that creates a "unified command" headed by the state police agency.

Information for this report article was contributed was provided by William Sanders of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

NW News on 06/06/2020

Print Headline: On fifth night, protest ends before curfew

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