Arkansas Congressional leaders respond to George Floyd protests, surrounding controversies

by Roby Brock ([email protected]) 630 views 

Arkansas’ all-GOP Congressional delegation has varying views on recent developments in the state and nation in the wake of the protests surrounding the death of George Floyd.

Talk Business & Politics asked all four U.S. Congressmen and the state’s two U.S. Senators to comment on the protests in the wake of Floyd’s death, their reaction to Sen. Tom Cotton’s national essay calling for military intervention to assist local law enforcement, and response to former U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis’ interview expressing concern over President Trump’s leadership and actions during the crisis.

It has been a week since the nation saw video of the killing of George Floyd, a black man who was choked to death on camera in Minneapolis by a white police officer, Derek Chauvin. Floyd’s funeral was Thursday (June 4). Chauvin and three assisting police officers have been arrested and charged with criminal offenses ranging from second degree murder to aiding and abetting murder.

The episode signaled another instance of police brutality against African-Americans – a simmering racial and societal problem that has led to daily protests in hundreds of cities across the U.S. for a week. While many protests have been peaceful, there have been escalations leading to brutal police and protestor confrontations and instances of looting and vandalism.

Cotton wrote a guest editorial on Wednesday (June 3) encouraging military intervention to assist in restoring order in communities that have seen widespread violence.

“Some elites have excused this orgy of violence in the spirit of radical chic, calling it an understandable response to the wrongful death of George Floyd. Those excuses are built on a revolting moral equivalence of rioters and looters to peaceful, law-abiding protesters. A majority who seek to protest peacefully shouldn’t be confused with bands of miscreants. But the rioting has nothing to do with George Floyd, whose bereaved relatives have condemned violence,” he wrote.

On the same day, former U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis, a former Marine general, provided lengthy comments to The Atlantic. Mattis said President Donald Trump’s handling of the protests was part of his larger “divide and conquer” strategy of governance.

“I have watched this week’s unfolding events, angry and appalled,” Mattis writes. “Donald Trump is the first president in my lifetime who does not try to unite the American people — does not even pretend to try. Instead, he tries to divide us. We are witnessing the consequences of three years of this deliberate effort. We are witnessing the consequences of three years without mature leadership.”

The questions from Talk Business & Politics posed to the Congressmen and Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., were:

1) What does the Congressman think of the local, state and national protests in the wake of George Floyd’s death?

2) Does the Congressman agree with Sen. Cotton’s statements regarding utilizing the U.S. military during the protests currently underway in cities across Arkansas and the country?

3) Does the Congressman have a response to General Mattis’ statements in this article?

Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., was asked to respond to Questions 1 and 3 and was offered additional space to address the reaction he has received from his New York Times commentary. His office indicated that he would respond to this request, but his answers were not received by deadline. This story will be updated to include his responses when received.

Talk Business & Politics will also publish a story later today with responses from the three Democratic challengers to Congress in Districts 2, 3 and 4.

RESPONSES
U.S. Rep. Rick Crawford, R-Jonesboro, provided two separate statements, including one from his spokesperson, to address all three questions.

“The oaths I have taken in both the military and as a member of Congress carry the same wording that in service to the country, I would uphold the Constitution of the United States. This is critical to me and I know how important our First and Ninth Amendment rights are at times of great discord and challenge, much like we are facing right now in our country. I am angered and saddened by individuals who have all but silenced those who want to see reforms and improvements with their own actions of violence, destruction, and terror. I will deliberately and contemplatively consider any and all proposals put forward by those who want to see change that moves our country forward so we can all enjoy more safety and prosperity, which has been a hallmark of the American way of life. We all deserve better in what we have seen the last many days and I hope we all can work towards that outcome.” – Rep. Crawford.

“The congressman believes that the presence of LEO’s [law enforcement officers] in Washington D.C. over the last several days deterred violent actors and those committing acts of destruction from increasing and resulted in significantly less violence. Any actions that the President can take that ensures a safe and prosperous country is important for him to have at his disposal as the Commander-in-Chief.” – Sara Robertson, Rep. Crawford’s spokesperson.

U.S. Rep. French Hill, R-Little Rock, opted to not provide a response to Question 3.

Q: What does the Congressman think of the local, state and national protests in the wake of George Floyd’s death?

Hill: Martha and I were shocked and horrified by the death of George Floyd. I was glad Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison took prompt action in this murder prosecution. Now is a time of reflection of our past, and every community must reach out to their neighbors in order to better understand the pain of those who have suffered from discrimination. We have had a good dialogue in recent years in our neighborhoods to curb violence, engage in community policing and become more inclusive. But we have much, much more to do. Only by addressing and debating these issues peacefully will we have a chance to heal and come together. Finally, I want to thank Governor Hutchinson and Arkansas’s local leaders who are working to maintain a calm and safe environment for free speech and protest.

Q: Does the Congressman agree with Sen. Cotton’s statements regarding utilizing the military during the protests currently underway in cities across Arkansas and the country?

Hill: The Governor’s use of the Arkansas National Guard is an appropriate response to help back up state and local police where needed. I believe the federalization of the Arkansas National Guard or use of other federal armed forces should be used only in the rarest and most extreme of circumstances. These are not present at this time.

Q: Does the Congressman have a response to General Mattis’ statements in this article?

Hill: (No answer)

U.S. Rep. Steve Womack, R-Rogers, provided a paragraph statement that his press secretary said addressed all questions.

“Anyone with a heart must be sickened by the senseless death of George Floyd. Justice must be served. The voices need to be heard. But the riots, looting, and vandalism have no place in our society, and state and local governments must restore order and protect its citizens. Divisions in America can only be solved by leadership and statesmanship at all levels. Our nation will heal when its people resolve to renounce violence and engage in healthy dialogue.” – Rep. Womack.

U.S. Rep. Bruce Westerman, R-Hot Springs, responded to all three questions.

Q: What does the Congressman think of the local, state and national protests in the wake of George Floyd’s death?

Westerman: I support all peaceful protests as a right protected under the First Amendment. Every American should have equal opportunity to make their voice heard.

Q: Does the Congressman agree with Sen. Cotton’s statements regarding utilizing the military during the protests currently underway in cities across Arkansas and the country?

Westerman: If a peaceful protest turns into a violent riot, I think that state and local officials should have jurisdiction to use necessary means to restore order and keep communities safe. Whether that’s a local police force, the National Guard, or some other means depends greatly on the situation and the level of danger to the public. However, the use of the U.S. military operating on U.S soil should only be used in the most extreme circumstances and if absolutely necessary, which is why the Insurrection Act exists. This should only be used to supplement local government forces, and was last deemed necessary in the 1992 LA Riots when the local government and police forces lost control of the situation and needed additional support.

While we have seen widespread looting and vandalism throughout the country, we must not lump these anarchists, opportunists, and provocateurs with those that have protested peacefully for many days in response to the killing of George Floyd. We must never use the U.S. military on peaceful protesters, but the Insurrection Act exists for a reason and if deemed necessary, I will assess the situation then.

Q: Does the Congressman have a response to the General Mattis’ statements in this article?

Westerman: General Mattis has every right to freely express his personal opinion, and I respect his perspective and his years of dedicated service to our country. Specifically, in regard to his thoughts on the use of the military, I’d refer to my earlier points on using the U.S. military on U.S. soil only when absolutely necessary.

U.S. Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., responded to all three questions.

Q: What does the Senator think of the local, state and national protests in the wake of George Floyd’s death?

Boozman: As a nation, we recently honored the men and women who serve on the front lines keeping our communities safe during National Police Week. We owe a great deal to the law enforcement officers who put themselves in harm’s way to protect their families, friends and neighbors at a moment’s notice. Law enforcement officers are also public officials, and as such, must always work to earn and keep the public’s trust. The death of George Floyd is shocking, disturbing and has resulted in a massive failure of that sacred trust.

The anger and frustration this tragedy, and others like it, have brought to light is justifiable and needs to lead to reforms. Violence, however, is never the answer. Over the last few days, a clear trend of peaceful protests occurring throughout the daytime turn violent, destructive and dangerous when the sun goes down and a criminal element takes over is unacceptable and counterproductive.

When outside agitators are allowed to control the streets, the calls for justice are drowned out by an apparent, coordinated effort to create conflict and divide us further. Leaders on all fronts, at every level of government, need to be working toward deescalating the situation. The violence has to end so the dialogue can move forward. We cannot begin to build a better society while chaos reigns in our streets.

I have been pleased to see that the overwhelming majority of protests in Arkansas have been peaceful. When agitators and opportunists have attempted to instigate violent acts and carry out crimes in Arkansas, law enforcement has appeared to respond in a measured way to stop it. At the same time, law enforcement in communities across the state have often deescalated situations and reached out to protestors in a meaningful way. My office has been amplifying scenes of protestors and law enforcement sharing in uplifting moments at several of Arkansas’s protests on social media.

Q: Does the Senator agree with Sen. Cotton’s statements regarding utilizing the military during the protests currently underway in cities across Arkansas and the country?

Boozman: Destruction of property will not bring about meaningful change, it will only hinder the momentum that has clearly been built through the efforts of thousands of protestors. Using the National Guard at the discretion of our governors to supplement local law enforcement in protecting individuals and property has proven to be an effective tool in decreasing violence. This support has assisted state and local law enforcement in maintaining public safety in recent protests. The Secretary of Defense said active duty troops should only be used as a very last resort in the most dire of situations, and this is not one of those situations.

Q: Does the Senator have a response to the General Mattis’ statements in this article?

Boozman: I have the utmost respect for General Mattis. Right now, I believe it is in our nation’s best interest for every leader to bring down the temperature so that we can begin to move forward with reforms that can improve the relationship between law enforcement and minority communities.

Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., provided this statement in response.

“Senator Cotton believes that peaceful protests in Arkansas and around the country should be welcomed, but looting and arson should not be tolerated,” said Cotton spokesperson James Arnold.

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