PEACEFUL: This was the scene most of the day at the Capitol. Things took a turn near midnight. Photo by Brian Chilson

A day of peaceful demonstrations across Arkansas against police violence ended with police gassing of crowds in Little Rock and Conway.

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WHOSE SIDE WAS HE ON? Many who joined the peaceful demonstrations questioned the agenda of people such as this man in camo and a Hawaiian shirt and carrying a military-style weapon and a sign saying “all cops are bastards.”

In Little Rock, particularly, questions emerged again as they had following gassing of demonstrators in Little Rock Saturday of whether counter-protesters contributed to actions that prompted police response. Demonstrators were black and white, but videos captured white counter-protest voices as events built toward a police climax late Friday. Videos also emerged Sunday of masked people who appeared to be white damaging buildings Saturday across the street from the Capitol.

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The demonstrations included occasional disruption of traffic on freeways (not a reason for tear gas when caused by a football game in Little Rock, several have noted.) Again Sunday, vandals damaged buildings near the state Capitol.

Joseph Flaherty, on the scene for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, reported that Little Rock police tweeted at 11:56 p.m. to avoid the Capitol area because “some protesters have started causing damage to property.”

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The rounds of chemical agents and flash bangs started soon after. A couple of rounds of fireworks went off low to the ground, too, apparently set off by protesters. Demonstrators remained in the Capitol complex for a short time, but most left as the volume of smoke grew.

KARK noted property damage.

Fire on the street immediately preceded police action.

Photo by Brian Chilson

Social media reports said Little Rock police did not discharge gas or other crowd dispersing agents. State Police and Capitol police are among agencies that have joined in observing the demonstrations. It is a day late for whoever is in charge of state forces to answer questions about decisions to use force and who’s in command.

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KATV reported that police used tear gas and made at least four arrests to break up a demonstration in Conway. The arrests came, KATV said, after a man wielded a knife against protesters. KATV said State Police gassed people in Conway for failing to move off streets.

Hundreds took to the streets in Jonesboro, apparently peacefully, KAIT-8 reported. That report noted that Memphis police gassed demonstrators in that city.

A demonstration in Hot Springs was peaceful, the Sentinel-Record reported.

In Fort Smith, hundreds protested peacefully, 40/29 reported.

Several hundred protested peacefully in Russellville, KARK reported.

So what happened in Little Rock late last night? For most of the day, the crowd was peaceful and urging others to be peaceful, much as had happened Saturday before police unleashed gas, pepper balls and other tactics to disperse crowds. There was scattered minor damage, but Mayor Frank Scott Jr. and Police Chief Keith Humphrey praised the demonstrations as a mostly peaceful exercise of First Amendment rights as well as an understandable expression of anguish over the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis and historic oppression of black people by police.


One of the best accounts I’ve seen is the Twitter and Facebook account of Will Yandell, a Little Rock law student. On Facebook, he wrote: “In a confusing turn of events, riot police fired tear gas into a crowd of peaceful demonstrators on the Capitol Steps tonight.”

His Twitter account has a great video thread on late-night events. As displayed on Twitter, the latest are at the top. You have to go back to the beginning and read forward to follow the time sequence. A selection, re-ordered by me, which illustrates the sudden turn of events as he witnessed them:

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Nationally, fingers point at the man who has often encouraged police brutality against dissident voices. Nationally, police rioted against those who demonstrated. They attacked, sprayed, gassed and clubbed. Videos showed many police acted without provocation. Journalists were targeted across the country, another seeming reflection of the messaging from Donald Trump, who took to a White House bunker in the face of demonstrations in Washington, D.C.

UPDATE: Dispersal of the demonstration didn’t mean the city fell quiet.

Blogger Russ Racop (see more about him in the next blog post) was up most of the night chronicling a caravan of cars that drove around Little Rock, apparently leaving signs of vandalism.