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OPINION | JOHN BRUMMETT: A little quick on the trigger

by John Brummett | January 4, 2022 at 2:54 a.m.


In descending order of importance, the issues are whether the Little Rock police chief was trigger-happy and whether the car dealer who wants to replace Frank Scott as mayor was Twitter-happy.

In terms of political responsibility, Scott owns this police chief, Keith Humphrey, who, on New Year's Eve, made news this dramatic way: He rolled up in his self-appointed patrol duty on an apparent road-range incident shortly before 9 p.m. at the Super Stop at Asher and Fair Park. There he confronted a woman shooting and wounding another woman, and a man apparently trying to restrain a woman who'd broken out a car window amid angry shouting.

The chief reportedly fired his official weapon, hurting no one, blessedly, but damaging a vehicle. The alleged shooter was later arrested. The victim was in critical condition.

By protocol, any Little Rock police officer involved in a shooting incident must go on administrative leave while the matter is investigated. And that goes for the chief. The State Police, not the Little Rock police, will do this investigating.

So, rampaging public criticism of the chief couldn't accomplish what has been done for the moment by official procedure, meaning get him off the job.

Scott hired Humphrey singularly as part of his new strong-mayor emphasis. He mobilized his hand-picked chief to defuse racial tension with apparent victim-over-officer sensitivity in a police shooting incident. He stood by his hand-picked chief as the police force seemed something of a mess under reportedly divisive and antagonizing leadership. Scott stayed strong for his chief even as the more progressive city directors denounced the chief's managerial style.

With that established, we had Steve Landers, the car-selling magnate with high public identification from saturation television advertising, declaring weeks ago that he was opposing Scott in the forthcoming November general election.

Landers made that official in a tweet on the night that Scott's big tax plan went down to smashing defeat, suggesting personal rejection of the Scott mayoralty.

Landers has been attending city board meetings "where they act like a bunch of kids," he told me Sunday.

Sometimes mega-successful business people can't understand the openly disagreeable dialogue that can attend public service.

Landers alleges that Scott has bungled the mayor's job thoroughly but most especially in the police situation. He says the first thing he'd do as mayor is put in another chief.

Even as dependent as a crime-ridden city is on police work, and even as much as people wish to support law enforcement, it does not necessarily follow that rank-and-file officers are right when they object to their oversight.

But we can pretty much stipulate that Scott's three years as mayor have not remotely measured up to his lofty campaign ideals of historic unity and generational progress.

It's not entirely his fault that he can't get along with the city board, but he's shown an unwillingness to seek conciliation or consensus.

I was driving west the other day on Markham between Van Buren and University and looked south at an unattractive abandoned landscape that once was a golf course with tended greens, waving flags and duffers young and old trudging up the 18th. I felt I was beholding a metaphor for the Scott administration.

He closed the course, understandably, to save money. The tax plan soundly defeated was designed to transform the old course into Little Rock's Central Park with youth and family activities.

The last few days of 2021 were marked by overtures from a couple of longtime political regulars. They surprised me by telling me I shouldn't dismiss Landers as a Trumpian right-winger--which I might have already done--but get to know him as a man of strong community conscience.

I look forward to that opportunity. But, in the interim, I note disapprovingly that Landers pounced instantly to Twitter on New Year's Day to exploit politically this shooting incident with the chief.

Landers, or an aide in his behalf, spent New Year's Day linking on Twitter horrifying videos purportedly of the incident but making not at all clear just what the police chief did.

Landers tweeted it was time for change in part because the chief violated policy by not engaging body camera equipment.

When I told Landers on Sunday that I thought there wasn't enough known at that point to make firm judgments about the chief's incident, he said, "That's fair. I just felt I had good information that he didn't have the body cam. Otherwise, it's just another blow to the city."

There is plenty to go on already in criticism of Scott. There is plenty of time between now and November to engage additional opportunities.

That the police chief might be a Barney Fife, and that Barney in this case might not be overseen by one nearly as deft as Sheriff Andy Taylor--that's a tad over-anxious for the moment as a campaign theme.


John Brummett, whose column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, is a member of the Arkansas Writers' Hall of Fame. Email him at jbrummett@arkansasonline.com. Read his @johnbrummett Twitter feed.



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