On Monday (June 1), Gov. Asa Hutchinson gave his most extensive responses to date to the protests and confrontations that have gripped Arkansas and the nation in the wake of the killing of George Floyd, a black man who was choked to death on camera in Minneapolis nearly a week ago by a white police officer, Derek Chauvin.
The episode signaled another instance of police brutality against African-Americans – a simmering racial and societal problem that has led to a new round of protests in hundreds of cities across the U.S.
“The death of George Floyd is such a landmark site in America, and it’s troubling to anybody who appreciates law enforcement and their role in public safety. To see the death in such a way that George Floyd is crying out, ‘I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe,’ you understand the outrage that the American people feel, the outrage that I feel, the disappointment that we have in law enforcement officers who are sworn to uphold the law, and yet, they cross every line and abuse the system. They don’t honor the system. They don’t honor the rule of law and justice,” said Hutchinson, a former U.S. Attorney, Drug Enforcement Administrator, and deputy at the Department of Homeland Security.
In Arkansas, there have been a number of peaceful protests in Little Rock, including the state capitol, as well as other demonstrations in other cities. On Saturday and Sunday nights, protests at the capitol resulted in law enforcement using tear gas or shooting pellets at protestors. There has been property damage to downtown buildings and public spaces during the confrontations. Hutchinson has allowed the Arkansas State Police and the Arkansas National Guard to be utilized in conjunction with Little Rock and Pulaski County law enforcement during the protests.
“During this time, it’s my job as governor to make sure that those who want to express themselves as demonstrators, as protestors that are peaceful that they are protected and that they have the right to exercise the First Amendment,” he said at his Monday afternoon press conference.
“Let me be clear that I will not tolerate acts of violence or destruction of property that is inconsistent with a peaceful protest,” he added.
Little Rock Mayor Frank Scott, Jr. instituted a citywide curfew beginning Monday evening that will restrict travel in the city between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m. In announcing the curfew, Scott said the city “has received intelligence, including information from U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District Cody Hiland, that professional, out-of-state antagonists, posing as protestors, intend to be destructive during future protests and strategically instigate acts of violence.”
Calling 90% of the protestors “peaceful,” Hutchinson said there are Arkansans causing problems, but he confirmed he is aware of out-of-state agitators too. He declined to identify the groups.
“I want to get more intelligence. I want to get more information before we start identifying those groups, so I’m not going to go down that path. In looking at some of them, I could make some judgments, but I’m not going to yet publicly,” Hutchinson said.
Earlier Monday, U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., called for President Donald Trump to invoke the Insurrection Act to deploy active-duty military forces to cities to “ensure this violence ends tonight.”
Trump held a conference call with the nation’s governors Monday and told them to aggressively target violent protestors. “You have to dominate or you’ll look like a bunch of jerks,” Trump said, according to a recording obtained by CNN. Trump has also been tweeting over the past three days calling for crackdowns by governors, labeling violent protestors as Democrats, and declaring the media as an “enemy of the people” for spreading “disinformation.” Members of the media have subsequently been tear gassed and struck by pepper bullets by police officers.
Hutchinson, who was on the President’s call, was asked if he agreed with Cotton’s suggestion and the President’s rhetoric.
“He’s [Trump] looking at the national landscape and the cities that have erupted in violence on a large scale… I’ll leave that to him and Sen. Cotton as to how the Insurrection Act might apply,” Hutchinson said. “I worry about Arkansas and in terms of Arkansas, I look at it as a civilian law enforcement responsibility with the backup of the Arkansas National Guard that is on state status… I’ll let the President explain his tweets and let others characterize it.”
Hutchinson said he is listening to others right now and is focused on responding to public safety. Calling himself a “concrete” person, he said he hopes to take action to respond to the unrest in a constructive fashion.
“You’ve got to somehow get to a kernel of: what action can we take? How do we do better? How do we prevent this, from what we saw in Minneapolis, happening anywhere again? We know we’re going to have issues again, but we’ve got to take action and steps,” he said. “I think it starts with communication and dialogue and understanding of the challenges and trying to address them head on.”
When asked if he had any solutions, proposals, potential task forces, or if he planned to join a peaceful protest, Hutchinson said: “I’m doing a lot of communication right now and I’ll leave it at that.”