Last month, peaceful demonstrators gathered at the Arkansas State Capitol to protest the shooting of Bradley Blackshire and demand long-overdue police reforms.

But instead of respecting these citizens’ First Amendment right to protest, state officials unfairly denied their application, called up a militarized police response, and locked demonstrators out of the capitol building.

Police brought riot shields and wore military fatigues to be stationed on rooftops – an extreme and intimidating display of force that has no place at a peaceful protest. In addition, a member of the press was unnecessarily detained and questioned by the police during the demonstration.

Now the Arkansas Secretary of State is using a bogus excuse to impose a racist double standard in how protesters are treated at the State Capitol.

Officials are claiming the demonstrators’ permit was denied because they failed to submit their paperwork more than 30 days in advance. But such a requirement has never existed – and our review of documents as well as documents revealed by the Arkansas Democrat Gazette show officials scrambling to change the rules in order to quash this peaceful, lawful protest.

In fact, current and previous administrations have accepted dozens of applications submitted fewer than 30 days before an event.

Bradley Blackshire’s death is another tragic example of the need for reforms that will bring greater accountability, transparency and safety to policing in Arkansas.
Instead of working to build trust with the communities they serve, state and local police responded to these peaceful demonstrators with an overwhelming show of force and locked them out of the State Capitol. These extreme measures raise serious constitutional concerns and reflect a fundamental disregard for the First Amendment rights of the citizens they have sworn to serve.