Roughly 100 people gathered on the steps of the State Capitol at noon to protest the killings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. The Hands Up, Guns Down rally, which has no affiliation with Little Rock’s Black Lives Matter movement, was organized and led by three college students: Christian Taylor of Henderson State University, Cody Jones of the University of Central Arkansas and Michelle Wallace of Pulaski Tech. After hearing about Castile’s death, the three quickly organized the rally and spread the word through social media.
“I’m happy all these people were here, but I’m sad. My heart’s hurting,” Wallace said after the rally. “I don’t know what to do to fix this problem, but I’m tired of seeing it.”
Taylor began the rally by thanking the crowd and admonishing police brutality. “Nobody deserves to be gunned down in the street,” he said. After finishing, Taylor let anyone come to the mic and speak. In between chants of “Black lives matter” and “We want justice,” several people came up to the podium. The speakers ranged in age, but each delivered a similar message: Police must stop unjustly killing black men. Afterward, protesters joined hands in a prayer circle and sang “Amazing Grace.”
Among the rally’s speakers was LeRon McAdoo, a teacher at Central High, who called for an increase in police deescalation training and more definitive procedures regarding the police’s standards of approach and use of deadly force. McAdoo told me afterwards that he is planning to form a Citizens Advisory Board to increase engagement between police and the community.
Wallace said while they believe in the Black Live Matter movement, Little Rock’s chapter requires three-weeks notice to participate in events. After the shooting at a protest in Dallas last night, Taylor was relieved that today’s protest remained peaceful throughout. The three were impressed by the crowd’s diversity.
“You don’t have to be black to fight for black lives,” Jones said. “You don’t have to be discriminated against to fight for those who are.”