Protesters in Arkansas and across the country are demanding justice for George Floyd and an end to police brutality.
In response to the protests over the weekend, Gov. Asa Hutchinson held a press conference at the Arkansas State Capitol on Monday, June 1. He noted that his responsibility as governor is to make sure the protesters in Arkansas are peaceful and protected.
Protests in Little Rock at the Arkansas State Capitol on both Saturday, May 30 and Sunday, May 31, have ended with state police firing tear gas in an effort to disperse crowds. Although the protests have largely been peaceful, there have been a few reports of violence and destruction of property.
Hutchinson recognized “the outrage, the disappointment, the fear and the distrust” prevalent between the African-American community and law enforcement officers who “abuse the system.” However, he emphasized that violence and destruction of property will not be tolerated.
On Saturday night, Hutchinson activated the Arkansas National Guard after reports of destruction of property. They were positioned at Camp Robinson on Saturday night, but stationed closer to downtown on Sunday night “to protect innocent protestors, but also to dispel those who want to do violence and damage to property.”
Colonel Bill Bryant with the Arkansas State Police said officers are there to protect protestors, but will take action to disperse if they notice any criminal behavior. Bryant noted that the goal is to safely disperse protestors by usually giving them multiple verbal warnings and time in between before further action.
According to Hutchinson, there are three types of protestors. The majority are peaceful, legitimate protestors who are expressing themselves in the right way. There are some Arkansas residents who “are taking advantage of the situation” to “wreak havoc” and then there are out-of-state visitors who want to “raise this to a level of insurrection and lawlessness.”
“We are going to continue to utilize the national guard that I have activated in that backup capacity to support the rule of law in the protection of property,” Hutchinson said. He also noted his support for Little Rock Mayor Frank Scott Jr’s decision to implement a city-wide curfew, beginning June 1, at 10 p.m.
“In terms of Arkansas, I look at [these protests] as civilian law enforcement responsibility with the back up of the Arkansas National Guard that is on state status. We are intent on making sure that destruction and violence does not occur here. We believe that we can handle that with the resources we have and with the intent of our protestors to be peaceful, which is 90 percent of those that are out there.”
When asked about what actions are being taken, Hutchinson said there is “a lot of communication and listening to people.”
“I don’t think anybody needs to hear solutions from me right now. I think they need to be listened to,” he said.
DuShun Scarbrough, executive director of the Arkansas Martin Luther King, Jr. Commission, joined Hutchinson today and said:
“We can best honor Dr. King by refraining from any chaos or any violent actions during this time. Violence, again guys, is destruction that takes away from the message and passion of your movement. It provides an avenue for agitators to sabotage your message. Please do not give any place for these people to come and destroy your message through violence.”