Since May 26, protests in many cities, including Little Rock, have taken place in response to the death of George Floyd, a black man. In a video that spread across social and mainstream media platforms, a Minneapolis police officer was seen pressing his knee on Floyd’s neck for eight minutes and 46 seconds until he went unconscious.
On the evening of May 30, protests occurred in downtown Little Rock, starting at the State Capitol building. These protests eventually led to a brief shutdown of Interstate-630.
I-630 has become a symbol of the racial divide in the city. The interstate was built in 1985 and in order to avoid historical landmarks, African American businesses and homes were destroyed.
The following day, Mayor Frank Scott Jr. held a press conference, along with the Little Rock Police Department chief, Keith Humphrey, and the Fire Department chief, Delphone Hubbard. Scott opened this conference by praying–recognizing all different religions–for unity among all citizens of Little Rock. He gave thanks for the protestors, the police, and for the safety of all involved.
“We acknowledge, Lord God, that there’s still work to do, and through that work we will continue to unite this city,” Scott said, “We hope and know that through you and all others that have respective faiths, that we are working together in one accord to heal our land, to focus on a universal language of justice, which we all seek together.”
He stated that he was proud of the protestors and the peaceful actions that they took. He drew attention to the young people who were involved, and how they proved that there is hope for the future. Scott emphasized the progress that the city will hopefully be able to make after these events, including public policy and programming that will increase opportunity and safety for all citizens of Little Rock.
Chief Humphrey expressed his thanks for the people who came out to protest peacefully, describing the scene of people marching and chanting. He stated that he believed that anyone who destroyed property during the protests was not a citizen of Little Rock. Once it was dark outside, the police had to bring in special resources from the Arkansas State Police and other agencies. He described some of the events that took place, but emphasized that the protests were mostly peaceful and cooperative with law enforcement.
“They didn’t cause any problems. There were no injuries. They continued to walk, exited out of I-630 and went back to the Capitol,” Humphreys said, “That’s unlike some of the things that we’ve seen through the nation, which lets me know that our citizens understand what a peaceful protest is all about.”
Throughout downtown and at the Capitol building, there were incidents, including an officer getting injured, but these events were few and containable. The Little Rock police, along with the Arkansas State Police, used chemical dispersing agents, and minor damage was done to area buildings, but no arrests were made in the downtown area.
“We’re starting to see more and more citizens explore their First Amendment rights, and as a police department, we have to make sure that we understand that we are displaying procedural justice,” Humphreys said, “Our focus is to assist these individuals, not to hinder their First Amendment rights.”
Chief Hubbard then came out to speak about a couple of fire incidents that were not believed to have been related to the protests. The events were spread out across the city, and could not be directly linked to the protests.
On June 1, Mayor Scott reinstated a curfew of 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. for the city of Little Rock. Curfews such as this one have been put in place in cities across the country in response to the protests. As of June 2, this curfew has been moved to 8 p.m. and has now been pushed back to 10 p.m.
As the nights of protest have gone on, more damage has been done to businesses and more arrests have been made. A number of these individuals are believed to not be from the Little Rock area. On June 2, dozens were arrested as one demonstration shut down the intersection of Broadway and 3rd Street. A variety of protests have taken place everyday since. Protests have included people dancing and singing, as well as many speakers who have come to discuss social justice and what that should look like.
On the morning of June 5, there was a peaceful protest and march of educators, students, parents, and youth advocates. This particular event was organized by Johnny Laine and Wendell Scales, who are both local educators. The group started at the Arkansas State Capitol and went to the mural on 7th Street, which features a depiction of George Floyd. This mural also has a list of names of people who lost their lives due to police brutality.
Laine had visited this mural earlier that week and wanted to organize an event for others to see it.
“When I got down there, I was just overtaken with emotion and couldn’t keep myself from crying. As I stood there in front of that mural with tears in my eyes, I couldn’t help but think about the reason I wake up everyday. That’s the students that I serve on a day to day basis,” Laine said, “Thinking about if one of them, one of their names could be up there. That mural could be one of them.”
This event was for people involved in schools, specifically, because that’s who has the most interaction and the most influence with young people. Laine and Scales wanted to hold an event where educators and students could come together and discuss these issues. This was a way for them to start these conversations and these relationships in order to make real change happen. In his own experience, Scales only had interactions with four black educators during grade school.
“It is equally as important for educators who are not of color to participate in this experience, because they guide most of our black students’ lives. You gotta take a stand, because they are direct influencers in how they are going to turn out in this world as citizens,” Scales said, “We think it’s very important, if you are a youth advocate, if you are a coach, if you are a social worker, what have you, you are responsible for taking a stand and supporting the lives of black students and students of color.”
On June 7, protests started at 2 p.m. at the Arkansas State Capitol. At that point, speakers addressed one of the biggest crowds Little Rock protests had seen so far. This lasted until 4 p.m, when there was a town hall forum held on the steps. The group then went to Central High, where more speakers discussed the issues at hand, and many Central teachers, students, alumni, and community members joined the event. Street medics, water, and food were available at all of these events. Having this event at Central is very significant due to the long history of protests, specifically dealing with race, at the location. It is important to now recognize Central as a symbol of progress and solutions.