A day of peaceful protests in Little Rock grew more intense and eventually turned to violence on Saturday (May 30). The scene played out in more than two dozen cities across the nation as people gathered to protest the May 25th death of George Floyd in Minnesota and the larger issue of police brutality.
Floyd, who was black, was choked to death on camera by white Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, who knelt on Floyd’s neck for more than eight minutes.
Floyd’s death has led to the arrest of Chauvin, who has been charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. Floyd’s killing also touched off a wave of protests – violent and non-violent – in Minnesota and across the country for several days over the issue of police brutality.
In Little Rock, a march of protestors gathered at the state capitol steps and walked down Capitol Avenue in the early afternoon. Later in the day, an apparent second protest began at the capitol and grew to block traffic on I-630 near the capitol exit. I-630 has long been a community dividing line in Little Rock between black and white residents as well as affluent and less affluent areas of the city.
By nightfall, the Arkansas State Police and Little Rock Police Department mobilized at the corner of 7th St. and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive and called on the protestors to disperse.
According to video obtained by Talk Business & Politics that was circulated on social media, a voice can be heard saying, “This is the Arkansas State Police. Leave the area immediately,” as tear gas canisters were targeted at the crowd of protestors.
Little Rock Mayor Frank Scott, Jr. said the Little Rock Police Department did not tear gas protestors.
“LRPD has not used tear gas. There are multiple agencies patrolling our city. Please go home,” Scott said in a late-night tweet.
KATV reporter Shelby Rose, who was reporting at the scene, tweeted, “I can say from first-hand experience tear gas was deployed tonight, however, it was by Arkansas State Police.”
While the daytime protests were peaceful and non-violent, during the police confrontation with protestors around 10 p.m., there were multiple reports of vandalism of businesses and buildings in the state capitol vicinity.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson issued a statement on Twitter around 10 p.m. on Saturday that read: “So many respectful protests today for the right reason; but destruction of property is not acceptable. I have directed the State Police to work with local law enforcement to stop the damage to the Capitol. The National Guard will be available as well.”
UPDATE: Mayor Scott held a press conference Sunday morning (May 31) to discuss Saturday night’s events.
Scott complimented the peaceful protestors who took to the streets of Little Rock on Saturday. Describing that members of society are “experiencing hurt, heart-aching pain,” Scott said he was thankful that property damage was minimal and that there were no lost lives or major injuries.
“I’m proud of the young men and women who organized a peaceful protest, who organized and shared their anguish and their pain in a productive manner. It helps us to know that we have a hope and a future and that future we will see and continue to see a brighter day,” Scott said.
“So we ask: what now? We do what we’ve always done. The city of Little Rock is a resilient city, a resourceful city, and a responsible city,” he said. “We seek justice in the city that will heal our land.”
“For those who don’t understand and may be a critic to what happened last night, I ask that you take time to be intentional with your relationships, to be intentional with your interactions with other folks who may not live where you live or go where you go. Take time to listen and to learn, because we can all learn to do better,” Scott added.
Little Rock Police Chief Keith Humphrey said the Arkansas State Police, North Little Rock Police, Sherwood Police and the Pulaski County Sheriff’s Office assisted with crowd control all day yesterday. There were no arrests made from the protests and one Little Rock officer was injured by being hit by an object when Saturday night’s protest became confrontational. On Sunday, a survey of property around the capitol revealed many broken windows, but no signs of looting or break-ins.
Humphrey said the only arrests made last night stemmed from individuals who drove a car into a front window of a Target store on University Avenue in an attempt to steal items. He said this won’t be the end of protests in the capitol city.
“This won’t be the last we see of incidents like this occur,” Humphrey said. “Will they get to this magnitude? I don’t know.”
Without elaborating in great detail, Humphrey and Scott suggested that outside agitators were involved in some of the vandalism and violence of the protests. Scott said people from outside Central Arkansas were thought to be involved and Humphrey indicated that intelligence his agency received in prior days alluded to large crowds and potential outsider influence.