Brian Chilson
LEADING PEACEFUL PROTEST: Mayor Frank Scott Jr. Soon after this photo, trouble began.

Tear gas dispersed crowds in Little Rock and Bentonville Monday night and acts of vandalism and assault marred the end of mostly peaceful demonstrations at the state Capitol and elsewhere in the state.

The day was marked by leadership in Little Rock and demagoguery in many other places, particularly in Washington, where Donald Trump used riot troops to clear a peaceful group at a church with tear gas and other devices so he could stage a photo op with a Bible. He outraged the Episcopal bishop of the diocese by using the church without permission for a stunt in which a man who famously couldn’t name a Bible verse profaned the teaching of Jesus.

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Mayor Frank Scott Jr. was an obvious contrast. He led a march of peaceful protesters away from the Capitol before the 10 p.m. curfew, but State Police, assisted by National Guard, unleashed tear gas on several hundred who remained.


As the marchers walked east down Capitol Avenue, acts of vandalism and violence occurred. Windows were broken. Bottles were tossed at the mayor. Tony Holt, an Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reporter, had his notebook taken and was struck by an object and bloodied. He updated his condition later in the day.

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A fire broke out at the offices of the Arkansas Pharmacists Association at Fourth and Victory and a bank ATM was stolen late in the night, but the Democrat-Gazette said a man was arrested with the machine in his truck.

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Objects were thrown, too, at Scott, who left the scene.

But I credit Scott for supporting the demonstration. It is not universally supported, as you’ll see shortly. And his leadership has produced a city police force that has tried to maintain order without putting boots on necks and deploying teargas.

For example, a post by Little Rock law student Will Yandell.

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Police Chief Keith Humphrey joined Mayor Scott at the demonstration,

Photo by Brian Chilson

A Trumpist in the Arkansas legislature, the reliably right-wing Sen. Bob Ballinger (famous for his financial ties to the supposedly religious Ecclesia College that was at the center of the massive kickback scandal), saw political opportunism in events with this dishonest Tweet.

Peaceful demonstrators far outnumbered crime and “rioting” in Arkansas Monday. That isn’t to dismiss the criminal acts. But Ballinger demonstrates the Trump routine. How easy it is to use the acts of a few to overshadow the acts of many and the historic injustice they protest.

Only Bob Ballinger would use a video of peaceful black protesters taking cell phone photos of a mural paying tribute to George Floyd to illustrate his point. There was no crime or riot here, just a picture at Arkansas Democratic Party headquarters. And “all over Arkansas”? Events in Jonesboro and Hot Springs were uneventful, to name two. Little Rock had hours of peaceful, righteous demonstrations of no interest to Ballinger. Hear a racist dog whistle in this, maybe?

The night of demonstration in Little Rock (source of all evil for people like Ballinger) did turn violent, as most media phrased it. But as with Saturday and Sunday demonstrations, questions remain about those responsible. Troublemakers were outliers in terms of numbers of participants (and they were often white, as video Saturday and Sunday demonstrated).

Were the violent actors also genuine protesters of racial injustice? You could be both. Or were they opportunists, seizing a chance to do crime, merely for personal gain or malice or, more insidiously, were they out to tar the movement? In Bentonville, where thrown objects were among the reasons authorities cited for unleashing tear gas on the town square, the crowd included men carrying military-style rifles as a show of support, they said, for both the 2nd Amendment and George Floyd. Really? And what about the self-deputized posse of armed men who turned up at a peaceful Russellville rally Sunday, there to “protect” others, they said. They did no violence but they stoked fear.

Fear is easily stoked. Consider the radio traffic overheard last night on the channel of Saline County deputies dispatched to Little Rock. One called excitedly for a heavy police response to a shopping center in western Little Rock on a report of looting. There was no looting. The report was based on an unfounded Facebook post. Such rumors were circulating widely yesterday afternoon on the Nextdoor app in an upscale neighborhood of Little Rock. Unfounded.

The Pulaski sheriff’s office released this information on four people who were arrested downtown by State Police after the 10 p.m. curfew reinstated by Frank Scott. Many of those in the organized protests told the Democrat-Gazette they believed bad actors were not part of their group. We don’t know.

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The four arrested:

Bryan Brown, 43, of North Little Rock, a white male, arrested at Sixth and Woodlane and charged with refusal to submit to an alcohol test, DWI, resisting arrest, disorderly conduct, open container of alcohol, failure to obey a police officer, drinking in public.

Alexander Dodson, 37, of England, a black male, arrested at Capitol and Woodlane and charged with disorderly conduct.

Austin Ebner, 31, of Searcy, a white male, arrested at Capitol and Woodlane and charged with disorderly conduct.

Sean Williams, 30, of Little Rock, a white male, was arrested about 11:30 p.m. after a chase that began when he was observed attempting to break into an ATM at an Arvest bank on Broadway.  He crashed near Baptist Medical Center and was arrested after a foot chase. He was charged with breaking and entering, fleeing, reckless driving, suspended driver’s license, disorderly conduct and violating curfew.

And finally, the worst of the worst.

I wonder what Bob Ballinger thinks of Donald Trump using the Bible as a prop, a stunt that outraged religious people and many others. I mean Jesus would have said something like this, right Bob?

And let us not forget our own Sen. Tom Cotton, who called for sending airborne troops to quell demonstrations across America. The Democratic Party of Arkansas did not:

Sen. Tom Cotton has crossed a line. He is calling for the President to use the Insurrection Act to deploy active-duty military forces to U.S. cities to suppress peaceful Civil Rights demonstrations.

“Sen. Cotton has gone beyond the pale and is endangering lives. Property is not more valuable than human life. It is reprehensible that Sen. Cotton is using the military as a political tool to suppress Civil Rights demonstrators,” said DPA Chairman Michael John Gray. “It’s the job of a leader to bring people together, not further divide. Sen. Cotton’s words are irresponsible, and even worse they are dangerous threats. Gov. Asa Hutchinson, Lt. Gov. Tim Griffin, Sen. John Boozeman, Rep. Rick Crawford, Rep. French Hill, Rep. Steve Womack, and Rep. Bruce Westerman should all condemn Sen Cotton’s remarks and offer legislation and solutions that would show they are working toward solving these injustices.”

Cotton told one of the few Arkansas reporters to whom he speaks that it would be easy to distinguish between peaceful protesters and violent actors. Tell that to the innocent people, including journalists, gassed, clubbed, run over and otherwise brutalized by cops all over America. Including those sitting peacefully Sunday night on the steps of the Arkansas Capitol when State Police and National Guard cut loose.