LITTLE ROCK – With police violence on the rise in Arkansas and multiple local law enforcement officials expressing racist and violent views, the ACLU of Arkansas today reiterated its call for systemic reforms to policing, including a statewide standards board and mandatory anti-bias training for officers. The organization also called for criminal cases involving these officials to be independently reviewed to determine whether their biases contributed to wrongful convictions or constitutional violations.
Over the weekend, Marshall Police Chief Lang Holland resigned after calling for “death” to all Democrats on social media, while Stuttgart Police Chief Mark Duke spouted QAnon conspiracy theories suggesting Democrats are “criminals” and “pedophiles.” In August, Arkansas County Sheriff Todd Wright resigned after his racist rant went viral.
“Arkansas state officials need to stop treating these incidents as cases of a few ‘bad apples’ and start confronting the fact that systemic changes are needed to protect all of our communities,” said Holly Dickson, ACLU of Arkansas executive director. “These incidents demonstrate the need for concrete reforms to ensure law enforcement officials treat all people fairly and equally under the law. The state of Arkansas must do more than simply condemn these officials; decisive action is needed now to combat the epidemic of police violence and ensure every officer in Arkansas meets the minimum qualification to treat citizens with dignity and respect. There should also be an independent review and audit of the cases in which these officials were involved to determine whether their biases contribute to wrongful convictions or constitutional violations.”
Arkansas has no professional standards board for police that the public can turn to for help when professional standards are violated by law enforcement, even though unchecked violations of the duty to serve and protect threaten police credibility and safety as well as public safety.
A recent ACLU report – “The Other Epidemic: Fatal Police Shootings in the Time of COVID-19” – found that fatal shootings by police in Arkansas have continued unabated, and even increased, despite the pandemic. The report found that fatal shootings by police are so routine that, even during a national pandemic, with far fewer people traveling outside of their homes, police have continued to fatally shoot people at the same rate so far in 2020 as they did in the same period from 2015 to 2019. Further, the analysis reveals that Black, Native American/Indigenous, and Latinx people are still more likely than white people to be killed by police.