Wednesday morning, days after a Baxter County School Resource Officer was arrested after admitting to sexually assaulting a minor student and a Benton County Jail lieutenant was fired after an internal investigation uncovered years of sexual harassment committed upon fellow officers, Governor Hutchinson tweeted, “I never feel more safe than when I am in a room full of police officers as I was today when I spoke to the Arkansas Municipal Police Association Convention in Hot Springs.” I get that politicians love to glad-hand, but Hutchinson’s words seem especially poorly chosen.
I guess the governor must have missed the never-ending stories in the national news of black men being the victims of police brutality. I guess he missed that there is not a single visible black person and the men outnumber the women 2-to-1 in the photo of the convention attendees that accompanies his tweet. I guess he also missed Radley Balko’s coverage in The Washington Post of the unconstitutional practices of the Little Rock Police Department.
I wonder if Hutchinson would stand in front of Roderick Talley, the subject of Balko’s coverage, and repeat that he never felt more safe than with the police. Talley, a black man who had his apartment raided and his door blown off with explosives by the LRPD after an officer swore he saw a drug deal take place despite video evidence to the contrary, is a candidate in the District 36 House race, so maybe Hutchinson will have his chance soon. I also wonder if the governor would repeat his words to the teenage girl who was preyed upon by the police officer assigned to her school? Or to the long list of women who have been victims of sex crimes by law enforcement officers in Arkansas? A quick Google search brings up a number of police officers punished for sexual assault or sexual harassment in Fayetteville, Little Rock and Forrest City in recent years. According to a study by the Associated Press, 20 percent of Arkansas police officers who have been decertified lost their credentials for sex-related misconduct.
My job as a criminal defense attorney means I am often tough on police officers. I look at everything they have done with a close eye. As a result of this work, I am called “anti-police,” but that isn’t accurate because the individual police officers are not necessarily the cause of the widespread problems. It is the methods and culture of policing that descended from slave patrols and from providing muscle for corrupt political machines that make it too easy for power-hungry predators to become police officers. Our current system does not do enough to protect women, including those working within the system; black; and Latinx people from abuse by police forces historically made up of white men.
The best solution to the problem is to throw out our notions of policing and make huge structural changes in how police departments operate, but radical reform is unlikely to happen here in Arkansas. However, a good start is to create more citizen review boards across the state as Little Rock did with the backing of Mayor Frank Scott Jr. and new Police Chief Keith Humphrey. Still, internal reforms and review boards will never get us where we need to be if our elected officials, including our governor, can’t recognize their own privilege and learn to acknowledge with their words that the power given to the police has long been a threat to too many.