Rita Sklar, executive director of the ACLU in Arkansas, has joined others in asking Attorney General Loretta Lynch for Justice Department review of the Little Rock Police Department’s use of force.
Since the ACLU’s arrival in Arkansas in 1969, Sklar’s letter said, it has observed “such a pattern and practice of shootings of unarmed civilians by the police [in Arkansas, not just Little Rock] with little or no consequences: an elderly man whose home was entered illegally, a mentally man (the son of one of the Little Rock Nine) killed by officers who weren’t properly trained to recognize and deal with mental illness, and a twelve-year-old boy with a toy gun are just a few recent examples.” The last case occurred in West Memphis.
Sklar said the victims are disproportionately black males. She said the LRPD is not the only concern in Arkansas, but it is the largest department with the largest number of incidences. She wrote Lynch:
The internal affairs complaint system does not work and it is almost unheard of for a jury to find a police guilty of wrongdoing in this regard. Furthermore, there is no citizen oversight of the police in Arkansas. Police entities have fought tooth and nail for years against efforts to establish a citizen complaint review board in our state, to require the police to collect racial and other data on police stops, and generally allow people to analyze, oversee and judge the performance of police officers. Because we do not have an independent state agency to accept and review citizen complaints concerning law enforcement, a review of training practices, use of force, including deadly force, arrests, searches, seizures and discrimination is particularly important.
The ACLU of Arkansas therefore unreservedly joins with the others in requesting a pattern and practice investigation of the LRPD.
Such an investigation was requested previously by the NAACP, the American Bar Association and the family and lawyers in pending lawsuits over the shooting death of Eugene Ellison in his apartment by Little Rock police officers working on a private security detail.
Police Chief Kenton Buckner, in a town hall meeting in November, said the department itself wouldn’t request a Justice Department review. He said someone else would have to ask. Buckner, who is black, vowed to hold officers accountable. From a KUAR account of that meeting:
Buckner acknowledged the department has inflicted scars in the community. He promised to hold officers accountable going forward.
Buckner said he while he sees the African American community fired up about police shootings that have received media attention in other states, the real problem to focus on, is murder within the African American community. He said he has a list of 38 recent gun violence victims whose deaths were not protested.
“You’re getting ready to jump on these buses… run to all these other cities where these popular, sexy things are going on. Because we want to look like we’re a part of a movement. Move your backyard,” he said.