Democratic Congressional contenders share perspectives on George Floyd protests, D.C. drama

by Roby Brock ([email protected]) 686 views 

Three Arkansas Democratic Congressional challengers shared their perspectives on the week’s events involving the protests surrounding the killing George Floyd, the call by U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., to deploy the military to U.S. cities, and former Defense Secretary James Mattis’ criticism of President Donald Trump.

State Sen. Joyce Elliott, D-Little Rock, is challenging U.S. Rep. French Hill, R-Little Rock, in the Second Congressional District. Celeste Williams is the Democratic challenger to U.S. Rep. Steve Womack, R-Rogers, in the Third Congressional District. William Hanson is the Democratic challenger to U.S. Rep. Bruce Westerman, R-Hot Springs, in the Fourth District. First District U.S. Rep. Rick Crawford, R-Jonesboro, does not have a Democratic opponent in 2020.

All four of the state’s Congressman and two senators responded to requests for comments on the topics in a separately published article.

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 the 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 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 Democratic challengers were:

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

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

3) Do you have a response to General Mattis’ statements in this article?

State Sen. Joyce Elliott, D-Little Rock, offered these comments and combined her answer for Questions 2 and 3.

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

Elliott: There’s a longstanding, profound pain felt by those organizing the peaceful protests. Unfortunately, not all members of our community are aware of this pain in the same way. Dr. King said we are all caught up in an “inescapable network of mutuality.” Our leaders need to listen to the demonstrators and understand where they’re coming from, include them in real efforts for change, and keep them a part of the decision-making process to prevent this from happening again.

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

Q: Do you have a response to General Mattis’ statements in this article?

Elliott: I wholeheartedly disagree with sending in the U.S. military against protestors. Tom Cotton is trying to puff out his chest for political reasons. Hours after he first called for the military against the protestors, President Trump took note and used his security forces to shoot tear gas and rubber bullets at entirely peaceful, legal protestors — just so he could take a campaign photo at a church holding a prop Bible. He held it like a dead squirrel, not a Holy Book. General Mattis is right to call out the perversion and politicization of the military. We need unity to persevere through this crisis, yet the president only seems capable of division.

Celeste Williams, Democratic candidate for the Third Congressional District, offered these responses.

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

Williams: The murder of George Floyd is the latest in an all-too-familiar pattern of violence. Unarmed Black Americans are being killed at an alarming rate. It should not be more dangerous to go jogging, interact with law enforcement, or take a walk in a park just because of the color of your skin. I stand in unequivocal solidarity with the family of George Floyd as they endure this heartache, and with protesters as they express their deep anguish, sadness, and anger. Our nation has not been true to its values of equality and justice. It is past time for all Americans to be treated equal under the law and in our communities.

My family’s dinner table conversations have struck a different tone this week. Our words have been somber, reflective, and heavy with grief. I’m well aware the conversations I have about police officers with my children are not the same conversations parents raising black children have. Until the law treats everyone equally, there will be distrust and unrest.

This much we know—we all have our part to play in ending racism. As Representative [Jay] Richardson implored us Sunday—white people need to have hard conversations with people who look like them. Legislative change is imperative, but we also have to move hearts and minds, and that starts at home. I am listening and doing my best to lift the voices of people who don’t look like me, while also speaking out against injustice.

Protesters are asking that our leaders—in our neighborhoods, in Washington, and everywhere in-between—work to effect change. We must end police brutality and take a hard look at our criminal justice system—one which disproportionately punishes our marginalized neighbors and those experiencing poverty. It is long overdue that we restore voting rights to those victimized by this broken system, and ensure every American citizen equal educational and economic opportunities.

Our fellow Americans are asking for full citizenship—the full benefits and opportunities of white American citizens. As Rev. Sharpton said, we must “make America great for everyone.”

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

Williams: Sen. Cotton’s statements are reprehensible. The saddest chapters of our nation’s story are written in eerily similar language.

Our military men and women take an oath to defend and protect freedom of speech, not suppress it. The idea that armed military personnel would be called upon to fight against their own civilian brothers and sisters is beyond appalling and a dangerous veer toward authoritarianism. The near-universal repudiation of Sen. Cotton’s statement from military leaders, journalists, civil rights leaders, and state and local officials shows just how extreme and dangerous this type of rhetoric is.

I’m tremendously disappointed to see such divisive and unempathetic language come from our junior Senator, and I’ve been shocked by the silence of my opponent, Steve Womack. His response to these same questions was lackluster and only paid shallow lip service to unity. Moreover, his refusal to condemn the words of Sen. Cotton is the ultimate in callousness and cowardice. Womack said, “our nation will heal when its people resolve to renounce violence and engage in healthy dialogue,” serving to illuminate the vast disconnect between his office and millions of hurting Americans, and dismissing the real concerns of masses of non-violent protesters.

Our nation will heal when we can confront racism head-on and dismantle the systems that enable it. Until we admit there is a systemic issue, we can’t possibly make progress. Healing will be found when we right our many wrongs and come together in true unity, ensuring everyone has equal justice under the law.

Q: Do you have a response to General Mattis’ statements in this article?

Williams: I applaud General Mattis’ service to our country and his willingness to speak out against the administration he once served. In a rebuke of President Trump and his allied voices in Congress, General Mattis commends the “wholesome and unifying demand” for equal justice under the law—the basis of our nation’s founding.

I have asked local veterans in my community how they would feel being deployed against U.S. civilians, and they’ve been quick to remind me that their oath is to the Constitution—not to a person or party.

One local veteran emailed me his thoughts:

“We should welcome this dissent from our military leaders, both current and former, on the President’s recent actions and threats, for the duty of every soldier is to obey only those orders which are lawful. By challenging the President, these leaders clearly question whether the use of force against peaceful demonstrators is a lawful order. General Mattis’ and other military leaders’ willingness to publicly condemn a sitting President should give us hope that the fabric of our Nation will indeed hold.”

We must reject the notion that our cities are a “battlespace” to be “dominated.”

General Mattis reminds many of us what we know to be true—”Donald Trump is the first president in my lifetime who does not try to unite the American people.” We can’t afford a president that sows division, particularly in this moment of mourning.

There is no justice for George Floyd or Ahmaud Arbery or Breonna Taylor – their lives have been taken. What remains is a call to accountability and prevention. Let this be an awakening for all of us. Let this be a time we can remove the scales from our eyes and see the hurt in those of our brothers and sisters of color. We cannot legislate away racism, but we can work to elect legislators who are committed to eliminating the systems that maintain inequality. We can elect leaders at every level who will do the hard work of creating opportunities so that we can all succeed – reducing the disparities in healthcare, housing, education, and jobs.

The uprising we’re seeing is a collective release of years of oppression, trauma, and terror – an attempt to fight for breath. How hard would you fight for the right to breathe? We have an opportunity to realize the hopes of generations and the principles of our nation. Let us all rise to this challenge.

I am calling on my fellow Americans to hold true to our shared values—that all men and women are created equal and everyone is entitled to the inalienable rights of life, liberty, and justice. We are one nation, indivisible.

William Hanson, Democratic candidate for the Fourth Congressional District, said:

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

Hanson: As a civil rights lawyer and teacher, watching citizens express their First Amendment right peaceably to assemble and to petition the government for a redress of grievances gives me hope. America was born out of protest, but the founding fathers gave us incomplete notions of liberty, equality and justice. Our march toward a more perfect union has been fueled by protests for women’s rights, voting rights, civil rights, and today, for racial equality and criminal justice reform. These protests reflect the best of American democracy, the best of who we are and who we can be.

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

Senator Cotton is dead wrong on the use of active duty military during the protests. Like Senator Cotton, I am also a veteran and a lawyer. He knows better, but I believe he just doesn’t care. However, his position is not surprising. He supports all things Trump. Like President Trump, he shows a disrespect for our norms and traditions from his open letter to Iran in 2015, where he and his Senate colleagues sought to derail the Iran Nuclear deal by disregarding diplomatic protocols and his advocacy, this week, of the use of active duty military during the protests in violation of the Posse Comitatus Act.

Currently, there are no facts to justify invoking the Insurrection Act (an exception to the Posse Comitatus Act), a position supported by Secretary of Defense Mark Esper. Senator Cotton’s attempt to compare the use of active duty military in the 1950s and 1960s (Little Rock and Oxford, Mississippi) to disperse mobs that prevented school desegregation or threatened innocent lives and property to the peaceful protests occurring in the wake of George Floyd’s death is weak, disingenuous, and offensive.

No state or local officials have requested federal troops and I am confident, like Governor Hutchinson, that local law enforcement can handle the small number of persons seeking to use the protests as cover for breaking the law.

Q: Do you have a response to General Mattis’ statements in this article?

I am in total agreement with General Mattis’ statement that President Trump is a threat to the Constitution. Many of us have long thought that he was a threat to democracy, but it is very rare and unusual to have retired military general officers say it. Admiral [Mike] Mullen, General Mattis and others are “canaries in the coal mine.” For them to break their silence suggests that the danger to our democracy is very close. In their voices, I hear a call to “General Quarters and Battle Stations.” It’s time to defend our democracy.

In contrast to the voices of our retired military leaders, we hear nothing from the rest of Arkansas’ congressional delegation. Their silence speaks volumes. Either they support General Mattis’ statement or support the position of President Trump and Senator Cotton. Why are they afraid to let the people of Arkansas know what they think?

As a veteran, I am proud and grateful to see our military leaders speak out in defense of the Constitution and the American people.