- Brian Chilson
- LIGHT UP THE NIGHT: At the vigil, participants hold cell phones to cast light.
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- Brian Cnilson
- IN THE HOOD: Many wore hooded sweatshirts at the vigil in symbolic tribute to Trayvon Martin.
Hundreds of people turned out at the Arkansas Capitol Monday for a vigil sponsored by the Arkansas Black Legislative Caucus as a response to the verdict in the Trayvon Martin case. When scheduled, no one knew that a volatile case would soon be unfolding in Little Rock — a police shooting of a young black man who allegedly produced a weapon during a foot chase.
The vigil was peaceful, though dozens of police had mustered on a parking lot at the other end of Capitol Avenue during the event as a precaution. Earlier, police had pulled back from a show of force on 12th Street when an unhappy crowd gathered following the shooting of Deon Williams, 26. Police Chief Stuart Thomas’ decision to remove police and allow the spontaneous demonstration to wind down of its own accord proved wise Monday afternoon.
Lessons continue to pile up: In Florida, the person with the gun always has an edge. React angrily and physically to being accosted by an armed man for the offense of walking while black and you could be shot dead. The survivor wins. A juror has been quoted as saying she didn’t see any racial profiling at work in the Trayvon Martin case. On that, I tend to be skeptical. But it’s irrelevant to the critical self-defense question the jury considered. Still. Would George Zimmerman have taken up a gun to follow a young white person walking through his neighborhood at night? It might be hard for a white juror to understand, but it is not for black parents: There is more peril, and not only physical, in being a black youth than being a white youth.
In Little Rock, the evidence so far indicates police thought they had — but did not — evidence of probable cause to stop Deon Williams. The car he was driving wasn’t stolen, as they suspected. The police account, after the fact, indicates the parolee was armed and carrying drugs. Not good. Could officers have legally searched him and arrested him had he not run? Unless there’s a civil rights lawsuit, we’re not likely to know and the final events in this case weigh against the dead man. It’s true that federal courts have held that flight alone is not probable cause for an arrest. But picking up a dropped weapon after failing to heed an officer in hot pursuit is another matter. You may also curse a cop with protection of the U.S. Constitution. But, like running, it is not advisable.
UPDATE: In the vein of police interaction, the Democrat-Gazette’s Gavin Lesnick reports this morning that a 31-year-old bicycle rider arrested near the scene of yesterday’s spontaneous protest for telling a police officer to go fuck himself when ordered to move along. He was charged with disorderly conduct and attempting to incite a riot. Sounds like a case for the ACLU.