Attending rally right thing, says Little Rock chief

In Little Rock on Saturday, Rhonda Coleman holds up a sign while listening to speakers during a Take a Knee — Rally for Justice event. Demonstrations in Little Rock on Saturday were peaceful. More photos at
(Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Thomas Metthe)
In Little Rock on Saturday, Rhonda Coleman holds up a sign while listening to speakers during a Take a Knee — Rally for Justice event. Demonstrations in Little Rock on Saturday were peaceful. More photos at (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Thomas Metthe)

Protesters again marched in Little Rock streets Saturday, the eighth-consecutive day of capital city protests against police brutality, racism and injustice.

Two demonstrations, one that started at noon and another at 4 p.m., were organized and peaceful, with state and city officials addressing crowds inspired to take to the streets in the wake of George Floyd's death while in police custody May 25 in Minneapolis.

All four officers involved in Floyd's death have been fired and criminally charged.

At the Capitol on Saturday evening, standing in front of handmade signs reading "Black Lives Matter" and "No Justice No Peace," Little Rock Police Chief Keith Humphrey praised the Minneapolis chief's decision to fire those officers. He said holding them accountable was the right thing to do.

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Ninety-nine percent of police officers are good cops, Humphrey said. But "we have to be able to stand up and be honest. When we're wrong, we're wrong."

He urged the crowd to hold him accountable for changing use-of-force policies in his department, and said of him being at the protest, "am I going to get some flak? I really don't care."

"If doing the right thing is going to get me fired, I'm going to look for another job."

Saturday's protests were in stark contrast to the first night's on May 30 when people outside the Capitol fired fireworks low to the ground about 10 p.m. and authorities responded by firing tear gas. The scene played out again the next two nights.

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There were reports of smashed windows in buildings near the Capitol. An Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reporter, Tony Holt, was attacked and taken by ambulance to a hospital.

The instigators of last week's violence were from out of state, according to Humphrey, Little Rock Mayor Frank Scott Jr., and other officials.

"It's our understanding there were many folks who aren't from Little Rock, who aren't from Central Arkansas, who aren't even from the state of Arkansas that came to our city to be destructive," Scott said at a news conference last Sunday. "But in the midst of that intent to be destructive, our residents prevailed by being peaceful."

But, according to arrest reports, everyone detained in last week's Little Rock protests were Arkansas residents.

Police arrested 75 people Tuesday, six Wednesday and two Thursday -- a total of 83 -- in relation to the protests, according to data compiled from the Pulaski County sheriff's office and arrest reports received Friday from the county jail.

Thirty-nine of those arrested were from Little Rock and 15 were from North Little Rock. The 29 other detainees were from Hensley, Mayflower, Benton, Bryant, Helena-West Helena, Lonoke, Kensett, Hot Springs, Russellville, Conway, Wrightsville, Pine Bluff, Jacksonville, Scott, Malvern and Sherwood.

Humphrey said last week that "sanctioned organizations" were behind the violence. "This is what they do. They have people on their payrolls, and they send them out to different locations. If you pay attention to the news, there are times that you may see the same person, they might be in Little Rock today, they may be in Minnesota, in Minneapolis tomorrow. ... What do they look like? They look like everybody."

The Pulaski County data shows that all of last week's arrests except for three were on misdemeanor charges of obstructing government operations related to curfew violations. Of the other three, one person was charged with misdemeanor obstructing a highway and failure to appear. Another was arrested on a public-intoxication charge, and the third was charged with felony possession of prohibited articles for taking a firearm into the jail, reports show.

Most cities around the country are seeing the same kind of statistics. The Associated Press reported that 85% of protesters arrested in Minneapolis were locals.

But, Humphrey said in an interview Saturday that its common for detainees to be local. Outside instigators "they're smart enough to not get inside the crowd," Humphrey said. "They stay on the edge. Every now and then you'll arrest one. Their main focus is to stir it up, to incite. So, it's organized. They know how to do it and then they're gone. So, it's not uncommon not to arrest those individuals."

Humphrey praised intelligence officials for tipping off police to the presence of the outside instigators, saying he's "1,000% behind the intelligence."

The FBI is working with law enforcement agencies to find people who are inciting violence, according to FBI spokesman Connor Hagan in Little Rock.

"Our efforts are focused on identifying, investigating and disrupting individuals that are inciting violence and engaging in criminal activities," Hagan said. "We are not focused on peaceful protests."


About noon Saturday, a crowd of hundreds, mostly white people, flanked a Little Rock police station south of Interstate 630 and dropped to one knee in a show of solidarity with minority groups.

"Thank you for your service, but please protect them," the white members in the crowd chanted as they walked to the 12th Street substation from Theressa Hoover United Methodist Church, the site of a roughly hourlong rally.

The crowd knelt while the lead rally organizer, Marquis Hunt, stayed at the church, blowing the notes of the national anthem from a soprano saxophone into a sound system that could be heard a block away at the police station.

White members of the crowd stood closest to the police station while black members hung back, an intentional gesture to symbolize that white allies were standing "in between people of color and harm's way," said Loriee Evans of Indivisible Little Rock and Central Arkansas, which helped organize the event.

Demonstrations have occurred worldwide since Floyd, a black man, died while in handcuffs as a white police officer knelt on his neck in Minneapolis. A bystander captured the scene on video, showing the kneeling officer and three others who stood by as Floyd said "I can't breathe."

Organizers of Saturday's first rally in Little Rock said the purpose was to inspire and educate white people, particular those of affluence, to cultivate allies for minority-group members who are fighting injustice and systemic racial bias.

Organizers intentionally directed the rally to people of the baby boomer generation and Generation X "because they're the ones who own the property" and can better affect change, Hunt, 52, said afterward.

"I appreciate the young activists, but I think their bodies are still expendable by the state," Hunt said. "Because if they disappear, they haven't taken any real estate with them. We need baby boomers and Gen-Xers to come with their resources and to be compelled to learn."

Demonstrators knelt on the 12th Street asphalt for close to 5 minutes on the hot, humid day, continuing their chant even after Hunt's rendition of "The Star-Spangled Banner" had concluded.

"America is under arrest. You don't have the right to remain silent," Hunt had earlier told the crowd.

State Sen. Joyce Elliott, D-Little Rock, had some advice for protesters, urging the white allies to be "passengers" rather than "back-seat drivers" in efforts to change policies and laws.

"I'm going to be driving the car," Elliott said. "People who look like me are going to be driving the car. ... Let the black folks drive the car. You are in the back seat. You are encouraging, you are working at it, you are helping when you're asked to help, but you sit in that back seat and watch where that car is going and learn."

The Police Department was supportive of the demonstration, Hunt said. Police vehicles blocked off stretches of 12th and Cedar streets to traffic during the rally. Hunt estimated attendance at 300 or more.

City Director Capi Peck of Ward 4, Just Communities of Arkansas Executive Director Donald Wood and the Rev. Malik Saafir, professor of philosophy and religion at Philander Smith College, also addressed the crowd.


A drone buzzed overhead throughout the evening Saturday near the Capitol.

Patrol cars frequently drove by. A couple of black school buses and white Humvees were parked behind the Capitol, where Arkansas State Police troopers mingled with National Guardsmen.

Monique Lindsey, who works at an area outlet of a corporate pharmacy, said Saturday was the third-consecutive day that she had attended demonstrations at the Capitol.

She tried asking Humphrey a question after his afternoon speech, but was told there wouldn't be a question-and-answer session.

Lindsey later told the Democrat-Gazette that an officer in Arkansas' River Valley once sat on her chest while arresting her. She said she had struggled to breathe and later filed a complaint with the officer's Police Department.

The officers scoffed at her complaint and nothing materialized of it, partly because her only witness was a family member, she said. She blamed the inaction on the "fraternization" in police departments, saying officers consider a complaint against an individual as a complaint against them all.

She wanted to ask Humphrey about that dynamic and voice her support for replacing internal investigations of officer abuse with those of external agencies.

By 9 p.m. Saturday, the protesters had dwindled to roughly a couple of dozen people, who sat on the Capitol steps, chatting quietly as a small law enforcement presence remained.

By 9:45 p.m., only five remained, and right before the city curfew of 10 p.m. those last five also left.


Roderick Talley (center) leads protesters Saturday on a march along Capitol Avenue in Little Rock. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Thomas Metthe)


Little Rock Police Chief Keith Humphrey (right) bows his head as pastor Dwight Townsend says a prayer with protesters Saturday outside the state Capitol. The chief urged the crowd to hold him accountable for changing use-of-force policies and said he didn’t care if he caught flak for attending the protest. “If doing the right thing is going to get me fired, I’m going to look for another job,” he said (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Thomas Metthe)

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