Little Rock Police Chief Keith Humphrey, appearing at a special called Little Rock Board of Directors meeting, defended the department’s decision to allow protestors to walk onto Interstate 630 on Saturday.
Questioned by Ward 5 Director Lance Hines about why the police would allow protestors to block the interstate, Humphrey said that with a crowd that large it was safer to allow them to block traffic then to try to stop them.
“We know that if the crowd is that large, protesters get hurt, officers get hurt,” he said. “That’s how you get on CNN. You’re talking about 30 minutes. That’s pretty good for a crowd that large.”
There was an undercurrent of tension in the meeting that occasionally bubbled to the surface. At least three of the board members have publicly expressed no confidence in the embattled police chief, who is the subject of a number of lawsuits filed by members of his police force. The Little Rock Fraternal Order of Police announced a no-confidence vote in the chief this week. All three of the black city directors have expressed their support for Humphrey.
Vice Mayor and Ward 7 Director BJ Wyrick asked if protesters had gotten a permit for their outings.
Humphrey said he didn’t know, but Mayor Frank Scott Jr. interjected to say, “A peaceful protest is not a permit situation.”
Later, Hines followed up. “In order to have an orderly, peaceful protest and not have folks doing stuff we’re not expecting, shutting down major interstates, we’ve set some protocols up, and we may just have a difference of opinion on this, but I can tell you there are some other organizers — Arkansas Right to Life, Shriners, other organizations — that have peaceful protests … that do it the right way.” He said he was disturbed that city policy would be ignored.
“We’ve got to all recognize in a situation in this time in our nation, it’s not our place to tell people how to share and express their pain and grieving and suffering,” Scott said. “It’s not our place to tell people how to peacefully process.” He said advances made during the Civil Rights era didn’t happen through permitted protests.
Wyrick said she’d seen protestors firing Roman candles fireworks at law enforcement during a protest. That’s illegal. Why didn’t police arrest those people? Humphrey said the police department decided that it would be best to focus on dispersing protesters. The LRPD used “pepper balls” to disperse protesters Saturday night and deployed tear gas and pepper ball Sunday night. Scott had emphasized that the LRPD didn’t deploy tear gas Sunday, but pepper balls are similar.
Humphrey also revealed that, based on intelligence the LRPD received, Assistant Chief Hayward Finks ordered the 12th Street police station evacuated Saturday night.
Wyrick was the first director to ask Humphrey questions. After she’d asked several questions, Scott reminded her that the meeting was scheduled to be brief and other directors had questions. At-large Director Joan Adcock objected. She said she knew Scott had spent a lot of time talking to protesters, but had he communicated with the Little Rock Chamber of Commerce, members of the legislature or neighborhood groups? She said the city board had been left out of updates.
Scott wasn’t happy with that. He reminded Adcock that they had talked every day about “numerous situations.” He said he’d had meetings with the chamber.
Scott and Adcock had a series of barbed exchanges, including Adcock saying that she’d been told that board members wouldn’t be allowed to discuss the police chief. Scott said he hadn’t communicated that. Adcock said she’d heard it from another director.
Ward 1 Director Erma Hendrix later chimed in to say, “This is a racial thing that’s going on,” referring to the dynamics of the majority white board. She praised Scott as “a young, black, intelligent man.” At the end of the meeting, City Manager Bruce Moore wished Hendrix a happy 90th birthday tomorrow and Scott led the directors in singing “Happy Birthday.”