In a press conference Monday morning, Rep. Vivian Flowers (D-Pine Bluff) and Ryan Davis, a candidate for the open District 34 seat in the Arkansas House, shared details about a confrontation the two had with Little Rock police officers and neighborhood residents after a campaign party for Davis on Monday, Feb 3.
Flowers said that after the party — which was hosted by Bill Kopsky, executive director of the Arkansas Public Policy Panel, at his home — she and Davis were talking next to her car, which was parked in front of a neighbor’s house in Little Rock’s Capitol View neighborhood. A woman came out of the house and told Flowers and Davis to leave and began “screaming loudly that she didn’t know who we were,” saying she was going to call the police.
“Well, it’s 2020, and we laughed,” Flowers said. “And I put on my flip flops and said, ‘Well, I guess I’ll just wait for the police.’ ”
Flowers said she and Davis continued to talk, and then two men came out of the house and joined the woman and “began to argue and cuss.” Flowers said Davis “very calmly” told the neighbors that “it didn’t matter who were were” and that they “basically needed to mind their business and go back in the house.” Flowers said the two men kept cursing and approached her and Davis, prompting Flowers and Davis to call the police. Flowers said the neighbors then moved back onto their porch.
Flowers said a woman who lived across the street and “about two houses down” from where she’d parked her car then came outside and began yelling, asking Flowers and Davis who they were and “telling us we don’t belong there, telling us we needed to go home.”
“At some point, that lady screamed, ‘Drop dead,’ and then we heard a gunshot,” Flowers said.
Flowers said she and Davis called the police again to report this. Soon, police arrived at the scene, and Flowers said Davis began “waving his arms” to indicate where they were. Flowers said Kopsky then exited his home to see police officers walking towards her and Davis “with their firearms discharged and pointing our way.” When Flowers and Davis noticed their guns were drawn, officers told them to put their hands in the air, and they both did.
“Bill [Kopsky] continued to walk toward [us], and then he started to say, ‘That’s a sitting legislator! That’s a candidate for the legislature! Those are my friends!’’ Flowers said. “And at that point, then [Kopsky] began … saying he’d called his city council person. The energy of those officers changed, they put their firearms down, they began to ask us what happened, and they also explained why they came forward the way they did.”
Flowers said that the woman they’re “certain” shot the gun was questioned by police, and the woman did acknowledge that she told Flowers and Davis to “drop dead,” and was cited by police for “terroristic threatening.” The woman denied shooting a gun.
“We were calm and cool and collected because we had to be,” Flowers said. “This is not the first time that I’ve had a scary encounter with the police, and this is not the first time that I’ve had an encounter with someone who is racist and who is trying to violate my space.”
Davis then took the podium and told press and supporters gathered in the Old Supreme Court Room that this was also not his first experience “dealing with people who question your mere existence.”
“It’s not my first experience in the city of Little Rock,” Davis said. “It’s not my first experience in the near parts of that neighborhood. There’s no part of our city that is immune to that.”
“I’ve heard, and I’m grateful to, so many folks who have said, ‘We want you to feel welcome in our neighborhood.’ ” Davis said. “And as much as I appreciate that, I don’t feel like I require an official welcome in the city that I was born and raised in. Beyond the ‘welcome,’ which I, again, am grateful for, what I also desire is to just be left alone sometimes, and guaranteed freedom of movement.”
Davis said he and Flowers filed a complaint about the incident with the Pulaski County Prosecuting Attorney’s office, and Flowers said she and Davis “would both like to see an arrest” of the woman who told the pair to “drop dead.” Davis said he also made a request to Mayor Frank Scott Jr.’s office for the Little Rock Citizens Review Board to investigate the incident, “specifically the initial police response toward the ostensible victims … at the scene.”
“We have to bring to bear some questions about a protocol — because we were told that this was the protocol — that brings police officers to a scene with guns drawn, again, [on] ostensible victims,” Davis said. “I have to ask that question, because it occurred to me the next day, that I respect the volatility of guns. I respect the volatility of darkness. I respect the volatility of several people calling [the police] and exacerbating a situation that we felt we’d already taken care of. And so, I refuse to over-dramatize this, I refuse also to politicize this, but I know for a fact that there is only an inch between the violence of a gun and someone else’s innocence. And I don’t accept that we should continue to have a protocol that has several police officers — because there were several — with drawn guns on folks standing in the middle of the street.”
In addition to an arrest and an investigation by the Citizens Review Board, Flowers said she will focus legislative efforts on advocating for body cameras and “better data collection” for police departments across the state, increasing punishments for false police reports, and reframing the way police “justify use of lethal force.”
“The very scope of the justification for deadly force is something that we have to look at,” Flowers said. “We want our police officers to be safe, but in order for them to be safe, there have to be very clear rules of engagement, and there has to be a clear and consistent application of that law for everyone. Whether you are a victim or a suspect, you are treated with dignity, your life is preserved when at all possible.”