The following column also appeared in the Arkansas Times.
On Monday, for the third straight night, protesters in Little Rock demanding justice for George Floyd and other victims of police violence were met by tear gas and brutality by law enforcement officers in riot gear. Instead of using de-escalation and community policing tactics, law enforcement dispersed peaceful demonstrators with a chemical weapon that’s been banned in warfare.
The aggressive, militarized reaction appeared to be in response to isolated criminal activity including tampering with and theft of an ATM. Theft is against the law, but the bank is surrounded by cameras and the attempted break-in happened in full view of witnesses. Police could simply have investigated the crime and brought those responsible to justice. Instead, state police chose to punish the majority of peaceful protesters for the acts of a few – inflaming tensions, hindering the media’s ability to document these abuses, and putting everyone’s well-being at risk.
Too many law enforcement agencies have failed to learn the lesson that violence only begets more violence, further weakening the bonds of trust between the police and the community. It also suppresses the freedom of the press and prevents journalists from reporting on matters of public concern.
People have a constitutional right to raise their voices and demand to be heard without fear of military-style assault or harassment. Amid this national reckoning over the epidemic of police violence and racial terror against Black people, we must not confuse the resistance to an injustice with the injustice itself.
The use of force should always be the last resort, and across the South and in Little Rock, we have seen glimmers of hope as elected officials and law enforcement leaders have marched alongside peaceful demonstrators demanding justice and change.
But President Trump’s fascist impulses and deeply undemocratic words and actions continue to cast a pall over our country – deepening our divisions, undermining the rule of law, and harkening back to some of the darkest moments in our history.
Make no mistake: the ACLU will not allow attacks on journalists and people exercising their free speech rights to go unanswered, and we will be staying vigilant against threats to the constitutional rights guaranteed to every Arkansan.
Moving forward, it’s on all of us to stay in the fight to dismantle white supremacy and end the scourge of police violence that has devastated our communities and claimed countless Black lives. Together we will move forward from this moment even more committed to building a future of peace, love, and justice – and where Black people no longer have to fear being killed by the police.