Little Rock police arrested 10 people protesting the death of Bradley Blackshire, who was killed in a traffic stop in February, saying the demonstrators blocked the flow of downtown Little Rock traffic Tuesday afternoon.
The protesters were taken to the Pulaski County jail in a Little Rock Police Department bus, where they were cited for disorderly conduct and released more than four hours later.
About 25 people gathered Tuesday afternoon at the intersection of Spring and West Third streets, in front of Pulaski County Prosecuting Attorney Larry Jegley's office, to call for the prosecution of Charles Starks, a former Little Rock police officer who shot and killed Blackshire on Feb. 22.
The prosecuting attorney's office announced on April 19 that Starks would not face charges in Blackshire's death. About two weeks later, the Little Rock Police Department fired Starks, saying he had violated a department policy by stepping in front of a moving vehicle.
Arrest reports for the 10 protesters list a single misdemeanor charge of disorderly conduct, and each report said the reason for the arrest was that protesters were blocking traffic. Among those arrested was Rizelle Aaron, Blackshire's uncle and coordinator for many of the Blackshire protests.
"We are going to jail for doing the right thing," Aaron yelled, hands still cuffed as he sat inside the bus that police had pulled onto West Markham Street. "We were arrested for walking down the street."
The Little Rock Police Department issued a statement saying the "city administration" decided "that the protesters would not be allowed to disrupt traffic," the statement said.
Police spokesman Lt. Michael Ford later clarified that the decision to arrest the protesters was made by police administration.
Mayor Frank Scott Jr. said between city board meetings Tuesday that he had been made aware of the decision to arrest the protesters before officers placed them in handcuffs. Scott said he agreed with the decision.
Several arrest reports say the protesters were "blocking traffic at Markham [Street] and Broadway." The protesters used crosswalks on Markham Street and Broadway twice as they marched and waved signs. At times they walked through crosswalks when the walk sign was not lit, temporarily slowing or stopping the heavy 4 p.m. traffic.
The 10 people arrested were taken in a large, black and white police bus to jail, where they had not been released as of 7 p.m. One person began feeling ill on the bus ride to the jail, according to the police department's news release. MEMS officials checked the person, who was later booked into the jail.
The protest began around 2 p.m., when Aaron and the others gathered at West Third and Spring streets, called for Jegley's removal and asked to speak with the prosecuting attorney. Around 2:30 p.m., the protesters shut down the intersection.
Aaron said that after conversing with Little Rock Police Chief Keith Humphrey, he understood that the chief would allow for peaceful demonstrations.
In a news conference on April 18, Humphrey said he draws a line at property damage or violence, but that he would only call for the arrest of protesters blocking intersections if roads were blocked for extended amounts of time or if protesters did not heed officers' warnings.
Several police officers arrived on scene before 3 p.m., one officer driving his motorcycle through the crowd of protesters, coming close to several of them.
"It was centimeters from hitting me," said DeAngelo Lee, Blackshire's stepfather. "That's just an intimidation tactic, and I'm not intimidated."
After blocking off nearby streets, officers watched the protesters for about 20 minutes. Then six patrol cars lined up along Third Street, with officers from each car forming a group on the concrete.
An officer who identified himself as Lt. John White approached Aaron and spoke for a few moments before returning to his car. Over a scratchy loudspeaker, White said he was giving protesters an official warning to get off the street, and if protesters remained in the street after 5 minutes, officers would start arresting them.
The protesters stepped to the side, back to the sidewalks, and resumed chanting.
White then approached Aaron again. Aaron said White informed him that wherever the group went to continue protesting, officers would follow. White told Aaron his orders came from Assistant Chief Hayward Finks, and Aaron asked Finks to come speak with the protesters. White said Finks declined.
"The police said they'd follow us where we go," Aaron told the huddle of protesters. "So let's take them on a walk."
After walking along the sidewalk and through several crosswalks, the group, which had dwindled to about 15, headed toward West Markham Street, where more than a dozen officers arrested 10 of them standing on a sidewalk in front of the Robinson Center.
White, running down the street from his patrol car, arrested Aaron first as officers began handcuffing other protesters. A little girl in a yellow shirt turned and watched as officers put a woman in handcuffs, the child's hands clutched tightly over her heart.
Officers began to pull the woman toward the police bus, and the child began to sob loudly. The woman in handcuffs fell, and an officer reached forward, grabbing a fist full of her hair and hauling her back to her feet.
A woman with bright red hair wrapped an arm around the little girl and tried to comfort her. Then officers arrested that woman, too.
As the bus made its way toward the jail, bystanders could hear the protesters inside still chanting, "No justice. No peace."
Information for this article was contributed by Rachel Herzog of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.
Metro on 05/15/2019
Print Headline: Police arrest 10 protesters in Little Rock; group urging officer’s prosecution cited for blocking traffic