An outstanding article by Joseph Flaherty in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette on Little Rock Police Chief Keith Humphrey’s failure to get stalking or harassment charges filed against police critic and blogger Russ Racop.
The ironic timing couldn’t have been greater.
Humphrey’s judgment has been in question for some time, beginning with his undue haste to serve Mayor Frank Scott Jr.’s wishes for speedy action against Officer Charles Starks for killing Bradley Blackshire in a traffic stop last year. Humphrey fired him over the recommendations of many in the police chain of command. A court reinstated Starks.
Things have gotten worse, with seven suits against Humphrey for retaliating against officers he views as enemies and violating the Freedom of Information Act. Even if the lawsuits prove legally meritless, they have produced ample evidence of a stormy temperament and impetuous action by the chief and deep trouble in the ranks. His judgment also has been called into question about credit problems and his alleged intervention on behalf of a female friend for a top police-related job.
But he and the mayor did well this weekend. They clearly instructed — and the police force demonstrated — forbearance for police brutality demonstrations in Little Rock. Police were out in force, but watchful, not heavy-handed. Traffic obstructions were endured, not broken up with force, as occurred in many cities.
At least no force was used until late Saturday and late Sunday when isolated incidents of vandalism — perhaps by counter-protesters — led State Police to fire on peaceful protesters and provocateurs alike. The mayor made a point of saying Little Rock police weren’t involved in the use of force Saturday. That seems to have been the case again Sunday.
And now comes Flaherty’s story.
Racop is a persistent — obsessive-compulsive, you might say — critic of police. He’s harshly critical in his blog. He papers the city with Freedom of Information Act requests. He notes chapter and verse of the white-flight officers cosseted with free commuter vehicles to avoid living in Little Rock. He illustrates, from the public record, times when cops have been dishonest and used excessive force.
He also photographs the homes of the mayor and chief. Just as you or I may legally do.
These are, to put it simply, not crimes. They are not harassment. They are not stalking. The chief believes otherwise. Members of his own staff, including one who has sued him now for retaliation, have told him that. The prosecuting attorney’s office has told him that (and Prosecuting Attorney Larry Jegley has been on the receiving end of Racop’s unflattering attention. So has my wife, I’ve disclosed before, in her days as a judge in handling a Racop domestic case.)
It is an old, old story. Fundamental rights aren’t reserved only for the polite and attractive. The Nazis in Skokie enjoyed a First Amendment right to hate, just as Russ Racop enjoys a right to monitor the police. Those who don’t appreciate the beauty of the Constitution’s protection set out to destroy it.
This is not a good look from a man in charge of enforcing the law. Poor judgment. Again. (Noted: He defended the First Amendment rights of people protesting police brutality against black people.)
This poor judgment has been the source of rising discontent on the City Board. But they can only complain. It is the mayor’s call. To date, his support of Humphrey has been absolute (and unproductive in changing his behavior.)
PS: Another misjudgment by Humphrey. He declared Sunday that he was sure those who did violent or damaging acts weren’t from Little Rock. How could he possibly know, since no arrests were made (except for the arrest of two local men caught breaking into a Target early Sunday morning)?
There were provocateurs, including white supremacists who hoped to stir chaos, in the demonstrations. But were they not from Little Rock.? Who knows.
And what about early this morning, as recorded by Racop? Were there out-of-towners in the caravan of cars reported in the city that left vandalism at various spots?