5 advocates for poor detained at Arkansas Capitol

Posted: June 12, 2018 at 4:30 a.m.

Five people were arrested at the state Capitol on Monday after police refused to let the Arkansas Poor People's Campaign inside the building and several protesters refused to leave a tunnel area in front of the building.

State Capitol Police Chief Darrell Hedden said the protesters were not allowed into the building, which was otherwise open to the public, after he said they threatened to "shut it down" during a rally earlier in the day on the Capitol steps at the front of the building.

"That's a direct threat," Hedden said. "This is a working building."

The protesters gathered outside the locked east entrance doors, in a tunnel used by the governor and other public officials, and chanted, "Let us in."

Hedden was seen by a reporter asking a small group of the protesters gathered by the locked doors to return to the Capitol steps. A woman wearing a clerical collar was heard saying, "We're going to peacefully continue."

At that point, around 3 p.m., the woman and four other protesters were handcuffed and led inside the building, while the rest of the larger group moved back to the state Capitol steps. Chris Powell, a spokesman for the secretary of state's office, said the group had a permit to protest on the steps.

The Rev. Sara Milford, the vicar of All Saints' Episcopal Church in Bentonville, was identified by fellow protesters as one of those arrested.

Hedden said police reports would not be available until today. It's unclear what the charges were.

A single-page flier circulated by the protesters indicated that they were advocating for higher wages, an end to Arkansas' criminal eviction law and better housing for poor people.

"I was expecting they would let us in," said Solomon Burchfield, one of the group's leaders. He had duct tape across his shirt advocating a $15 per hour minimum wage.

State Rep. Vivian Flowers, D-Pine Bluff, who identified herself as a supporter of the protesters, said: "I don't think it's right, I didn't know it was happening until I got out of my car and tried to catch the end of the event."

Most other lawmakers were not around for the protests. The Arkansas General Assembly is not in session, but some legislative committee meetings are taking place this week.

Last week, three women were arrested while chanting and lying down afterhours in the state Capitol rotunda. Social media posts show similar rallies were held Monday by the Poor People's Campaign at statehouses in Kentucky and North Carolina, where arrests also occurred.

Metro on 06/12/2018