The AMERICANA MUSIC ASSOCIATION revealed its initial performer and presenter lineup for its 14th annual HONORS & AWARDS SHOW at the RYMAN AUDITORIUM, WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 16th, hosted by … more
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Arkansas will become the nation’s 45th open carry state on August 15th of this year. This result arises from the Arkansas legislature’s enactment of HB 1700, a bill sponsored by Representative Denny Altes (R – Fort Smith) which amended Arkansas Code § 5-73-120 (Carrying a weapon).
Frustration over the Trayvon Martin case boils into a protest at 12th and Jefferson.
by David Koon
Nobody has to say it, but the timing couldn’t have been worse.
Two days after a Florida jury found George Zimmerman not guilty of all charges in the killing of unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin, with black America boiling over with frustration about the justice system, a Little Rock police officer shot and killed 26-year-old Deon Williams near the corner of 12th and Jefferson.
According to a LRPD release, just before noon on Monday, Officers Grant Humphries and Terry McDaniel saw a Chevy Suburban on 12th Street that they believed to be stolen. (Officials would later confirm that the truck was, in fact, not stolen.)
When the officers pulled the SUV over, police say, the driver jumped out and fled. McDaniel pursued on foot, while Humphries took off in the squad car, trying to cut Williams off. As McDaniel chased Deon Williams into the backyard of a house on Adams Street, a gun fell out of Williams’ waistband, according to the police. When Williams stopped to pick up the gun and turned toward McDaniel, the police narrative says, McDaniel feared for his life, and fired three times. Williams, who was paroled in May after serving two years in prison on charges of possession of a controlled substance and robbery, was pronounced dead at UAMS at 12:17 p.m.
McDaniel, a black officer, has used deadly force at least once before. He fatally shot a man who pulled a gun on him when interrupted during a daytime home burglary on Thayer Street last year. The burglar had earlier fatally shot one man and wounded another at the home.
Information about the shooting spread through social media. At 1 p.m., someone tweeted that the person killed by the police had been an 11-year-old boy, shot nine times in the back. A crowd of angry people began to gather at the Hess gas station on 12th street, just across from the crime scene.
By 1:30 p.m., the biggest swell of the crowd had grown to at least 200, simmering under the July sun. Dozens more watched from the parking lots of businesses and the yards of nearby houses. Several of the protestors closest to the sidewalk, where the police soon lined up in a black wall of uniforms, held signs that called for justice for Bobby Moore, the teenage burglar who was shot by LRPD officer Josh Hastings in August 2012 as Moore tried to flee a West Little Rock apartment complex. Hastings’ manslaughter trial in the case ended in a hung jury last month.
As the protest grew, crowding into the rectangle of shade under the awning of the gas station, the clerk at the station came to the door, ushered the last customers out, then locked it behind them, followed by a set of heavy steel bars. Soon, the neon beer signs in the windows went out, along with the lights inside. A man came to the doors and tugged on them. Another splashed ice tea against the glass, then threw the can against the doors. Kids with cell phones filmed him, waiting for something worthy of YouTube to happen, but instead he just walked away in disgust, disappearing back into the crowd.
Overhead, a state police chopper circled the intersection of 12th and Jefferson at 300 feet. At the edge of the crowd, people cursed it, many of them screaming obscenities at the sky and flipping the bird with both hands, trying to telegraph their anger and frustration to the pilot.
Ernest Franklin, president of Say Stop the Violence, was there, sweating into a suit coat as he walked among the crowds of angry young people in tank tops and shorts. He said he had talked to police on the scene, asking them to close 12th Street to keep curious drivers from driving by. Soon after we spoke, the street was blocked to most traffic.
“I’ve asked them to get somebody down here other than the police officers,” he said. “Right now, the whole nation, no matter where you go, they’re mad at the police. We do understand that the police officers have to do their job, but people are out here looking for justice and to get justice served, whatever that is going to take.”
The police brought in more squad cars, running them in almost bumper to bumper in the eastbound lane of 12th Street. “Nobody goes into the crowd,” an officer standing in the street said, and the word went on down the line. One man taunted the cops, saying, “What if it was your kid going down the alley? Y’all ain’t perfect.” Another man shouted, “Fuck America! That’s how I feel.”
Asa Muhammad was standing at the corner of 12th and Jefferson, watching investigators work across the street. A member of the Nation of Islam, Muhammad was at the Pulaski Country courthouse during the Josh Hastings trial.
“The police brutality and the police actions toward our people is not justice,” Muhammad said. “It doesn’t take the police gunning down our people to make an arrest or stop a crime … one shot or a taser to the leg could take a man down, but not a deadly force bullet to his heart or in his back to kill him. They’re professionals. They have tasers. They’re taught to shoot a weapon. But unfortunately, just like Bobby Moore was shot, this gentleman was shot. Another loss for our community.”
Muhammad said a lot of the anger on display had to do with the economic conditions many blacks find themselves in. “If our economic situation was better, and our people were afforded jobs to do better for themselves, then the vast majority of this wouldn’t be. But unfortunately, in this area, the vast majority of the people you see are unemployed. That has a great effect on what’s going on.”
More cops came. A roaring line of black and white Harley-Davidsons. A lumbering SWAT truck. Dozens of cops stretched their line down the turn lane of 12th Street, just behind the row of squad cars. Someone threw a can of soda, which sailed over the line and landed in the street.
Schwanda Daugherty was there in the edge of the crowd. “This is a community thing,” she said. “I’m here to support them even though I don’t know the young man. We’re out here, we’re going to protest, we’re going to show that we care. … There’s a lot of frustration. It’s happening, and we want everybody to know it’s happening. It’s a racial issue. It never went away, and it’s never going away. But we’re going to stand up and fight.”
As the afternoon wore on, tensions rose. At times, the crowd pushed forward toward the patrol cars, at others, they shrank back to the shade. A woman tried to get others to hold hands and form a human chain along the street, but was ignored until she gave up. Another woman in a gray halter-top shouted over the angry din of the crowd: “All we are to them is monkeys and dogs.” Someone threw a brown bottle that thumped in the grass on the other side of the street. The helicopter buzzed overhead, forgotten now that there were plenty of terrestrial cops to hate.
Then, walking along the edge of 12th Street, supported by friends, came a sobbing woman named Shemedia Shelton. Shelton was the owner of the Suburban Williams had been driving, and identified herself as Williams’ wife.
“You didn’t have to kill him,” she screamed. “Trayvon wasn’t enough? You didn’t have to fucking kill him. You didn’t have to kill him. You didn’t have to fucking kill him.”
Chastity Duffy, the woman supporting Shelton, said that they’d just picked Williams up from Tucker Penitentiary two months before.
“He was just trying to do what was right for his wife and kids,” Duffy said. “He didn’t do nothing.” At Duffy’s elbow, clinging there, shambling along in the sun toward the protest, Shelton wailed variations on a single sentence: “Can anybody tell me what I’m supposed to tell my kids?”
The heat came down, broken by periodic clouds. For three minutes, a burly cop stood in the door of a cruiser and spoke into a loudspeaker, telling the crowd to disperse, that they were participating in an unlawful assembly, that they would be arrested if they didn’t comply, saying it over and over like a machine. The crowd roared back at him, drowning him out with taunts and curses. There was a sense that something was going to happen. Eventually, the officer on the loudspeaker stopped, his voice replaced by that of a man who said he wasn’t a police officer, that he wanted to lead them to a park where they could continue the protest, that there would be a candlelight vigil that night they could attend. The crowd clenched into a fist before him and shouted him down too. Though a peaceful vigil would be held that night at the State Capitol, that moment was too angry and hot for talk of peace.
Police Chief Stuart Thomas appeared, along with City Manager Bruce Moore, both standing in front of the Family Dollar store across the street. Behind them, the shooting investigation started to wrap up. Police tape came down. A flatbed came for the Suburban Williams had been driving. Soon, the line of Harleys fired up and roared away, followed by most of the squad cars, some making a slow U-turn in the street.
Across the street, Chief Thomas spoke to the press, pulling further back when the chants of “fuck the police” became loud enough for the mics to pick them up and spoil a quote. “As we were working the case, a lot of information got out,” Thomas said. “People were a little bit misinformed about the circumstances … it just kind of built up from there. There are a lot of other issues at play, both locally and nationally.” A minute later, someone shouted “Look out!” as a full plastic bottle came out of the crowd, over the street, and over Thomas’s head — a hail-Mary lob that would have done any quarterback proud. The bottle splattered eight feet away in the parking lot, next to a snarl of police tape.
“It is what it is,” Thomas said of being the target of the bottle. “It’ll calm down when we’re out of here.”
Soon after, the last of the cops pulled away, and the crowd soon did as Thomas had predicted. By the time the TV stations did their 5 p.m. live shots from the corner of 12th and Jefferson, there was just a single man in a white T-shirt, holding a sign. Once the cameras turned off, he disappeared, too.
Standing on the corner, watching people buy gas at the Hess station and 12th street roll full of cars again, it was hard to believe the anger of the day had ever happened. Then a woman pulled up to the herd of TV trucks and rolled down her window. “What is it,” she asked, “open season on black people?”
Ultimate Classic Rock reports that Capitol/UME will release a The four-CD, one-DVD set of The Band live at their peak. The concerts are from the last week of 1971 and is entitled ‘Live at the Academy of Music 1971′ (Sept. 17) From Ultimate Classic Rock “The four-CD, one-DVD set gathers 56 performances from the group’s […]
Quote of the Week 1
"Well, as soon as he travels to 112 countries and negotiates a peace deal, a cease-fire, a release of dissidents, an opening of new opportunities and nations around the world, or even spends 11 hours testifying in front of a congressional committee, he can talk to me about stamina."
— Hillary Clinton, in the first presidential debate, responding to Donald Trump's assertion that she "doesn't have the stamina" to be president.
Quote of the Week 2
"That makes me smart."
— Donald Trump, responding to Clinton's statement that he paid zero federal income tax for several years in the 1970s and 1990s, according to the sparse records publicly available from Trump's past. Trump has refused to release his tax returns for more recent years.
Squeezing mental health care
On the surface, the Medicaid reimbursements cuts approved by the legislature last week looked like a no-brainer: Arkansas spent $147 million on group psychotherapy over three years, which is more than eight other Southern states combined. The new caps imposed on the group therapy benefit will save tens of millions of dollars per year, budget hawks said, thus bringing Arkansas's spending down to earth.
But the regional mental health centers that receive the funding say the caps will be financially devastating. Yes, providers in other states bill far less for group therapy, they concede — but they say those states also dedicate other revenue to support mental health care, whereas Arkansas does not. Simply cutting the group therapy money will force many centers to close, they say. That means severely mentally ill people — including some in residential care at the centers — could go without treatment entirely. Given Arkansas's dismal record in caring for the mentally ill (the state has been in and out of court over the years due to inadequate care), it seems wrong to pare down funding.
An arrest, then an apology</p>
State Rep. John Walker (D-Little Rock) and fellow lawyer Omavi Kushukuru were arrested by Little Rock police for "obstructing governmental operations" on Monday after filming the separate arrest of two men in a vehicle apparently stopped for having no license plate. According to the police report, Cedric Bell and Gary Gregory were arrested near MacArthur Park after officers found they had outstanding warrants. While Bell was being walked to a patrol car in handcuffs, Walker and Kushukuru arrived on the scene and started filming, the report states. The cops say Walker was "antagonistic and provocative" and that he and Kushukuru entered the area of the traffic stop despite warnings not to do so. The two were booked at the Pulaski County Jail and released on $1,000 bonds.
However, the next day, City Manager Bruce Moore announced the LRPD will formally drop charges against Walker and send him a formal letter of apology. Police did not drop charges against Kushukuru. As of press time on Tuesday, neither Walker nor Kushukuru had issued a statement.
Hate wins in Bentonville
School board races may be small potatoes, but they can be telling. In the Bentonville School District, challenger Eric White easily ousted incumbent Grant Lightle, an attorney for Walmart, in a three-way race. The key issue at play was Lightle's unsuccessful attempt in 2015 to enact a nondiscrimination policy for district employees that would have covered sexual orientation. (In short, that means the district wouldn't have been able to fire someone solely for his or her being gay.) Before the election, mailers were sent out — it's not clear by whom — saying Lightle "promotes the LGBT-transgender agenda" in the school district and tying him to "Obama's agenda [of] indoctrination of children!" That message still plays well in Benton County, evidently.
Meanwhile, there was better news in the Fort Smith School District, where voters gave a victory to incumbent Susan McFerran and board newcomer Talicia Richardson. Both supported an end to the use of the Rebel mascot at Southside High School, and both faced opponents eager to reinstate the divisive symbol.
And speaking of the Rebel flag
The student senate at the University of Arkansas tabled a resolution to condemn display of the Confederate battle flag at the annual Bikes, Blues & BBQ rally in Fayetteville. According to the Arkansas Traveler, some student senators were concerned the measure might offend alumni and lead to their discontinued financial support. Sounds like a bright political future lies ahead.
If swing districts still exist in this increasingly dead-red state, perhaps they can be found in Northeast Arkansas.
District 58, covering the Jonesboro area, where former Democratic Attorney General Dustin McDaniel launched his political career, has swung back and forth in the last several elections. Democrat Harold Copenhaver, an insurance salesman, won the seat over Republican Rep. Jon Hubbard in 2012 by a 53-47 percent margin, but there were extenuating circumstances —Hubbard turned out to be a slavery apologist. In 2014, in the Republican wave election, the count flipped: Brandt Smith, a former pastor and missionary who spent time working for a nongovernmental organization in Iraq during the war, nabbed just under 53 percent of the vote to take back the seat for the GOP. Smith topped Copenhaver by a little more than 400 votes.
Now Smith is facing a challenge from 29-year-old lawyer and Clinton School of Public Service graduate Nate Looney. Looney grew up in Jonesboro in a Republican family, but he was inspired by the big names in Arkansas Democratic politics: Dale Bumpers, David Pryor and Bill Clinton.
"Since day one, this campaign has been focused on education, health care and infrastructure," Looney said. "That's what drives economic development. I think that's what's important to folks right now."
Smith prefers an approach centered on tax cuts. "That puts money back into the pockets of family members," he said. "Every time we sit down and deal with our budget, there's always that call for more. I don't think it's always in the best interest of our state to throw more money at programs."
Looney, like the Democratic icons who inspired him, has a natural fluency speaking about nuts-and-bolts policy issues and offering up facts and figures in digestible nuggets. The question is whether that will make any difference given the "D" next to his name.
An exchange between the two opponents over pre-K at a recent Jonesboro candidate forum was typical of this divide between Democrat Looney's granular focus on bread-and-butter issues and Republican Smith's appeals to big-picture ideology and partisan affiliation.
Looney argued for an increase in pre-K funding, which has been flat since 2008 (House Democrats proposed increasing annual pre-K funding by $10 million during the 2016 fiscal session, only to be rebuffed by the governor and Republicans in the legislature; Looney supports the increase and Smith opposes it).
"For every dollar we spend on pre-K, it's been shown that we get anywhere from $7 to $10 return on our investment," Looney said, citing a study from the University of Chicago. "Folks, we've got a choice to make. We can either build prisons in the future or we can build preschools today."
Smith responded: "When it comes to some of these studies out of Chicago, there's very little trust I place in some of these studies that come out of one of the Democrat strongholds, where the city is imploding. If the city of Chicago was a model that we would look to, I would say, 'Hey, let's embrace that.' But their crime rates are out of control, there's anarchy in the streets, there's total chaos everywhere in most of these huge cities because of the failed policies." (The University of Chicago is a prestigious private research university, unaffiliated with the municipal government in Chicago.)
He continued: "If you're a parent, do you want to trust that 4-year-old or that 3-year-old to someone that you may not know? Children are a heritage from the Lord." Smith claimed that "some education experts" say that students would burn out by the time they get to junior high if they started going to school in pre-K.
"When we talk about poverty, those people that typically come under that threshold, at the poverty line, they have air conditioners, they're driving, they have phones ... we don't have the poverty that my opponent brought up," Smith said. Looney's support for increased pre-K funding, he argued, was "typical Democrat rhetoric, throw more money at programs."
In an interview with the Arkansas Times after the forum, Smith said that his main concern was mandatory pre-K, though neither Looney nor any other prominent Arkansas Democrat has proposed mandating pre-K. He added: "I still really like the idea of at least one parent being responsible for their child throughout the day because these are the formative years in that child's life."
Asked about the state Republican Party's recent decision to strike any mention of support for pre-K from its platform, Smith said, "I don't know what the rationale for that was, but I just feel like there are probably other issues. When you rank in priority some other issues that we're facing now as far as national security — which includes the southern border, our northern border ... our points of entry, immigration issues. We have to say, where do we need to put our line of effort?"
The candidates are also split on health care. Looney is a strong supporter of the private option, the state's unique plan that uses Medicaid funds available via the federal Affordable Care Act to purchase private health insurance plans for low-income Arkansans.
"Voting against the private option is really the equivalent of public service malpractice," he said. "You've got hundreds of thousands of people who now have insurance; the uninsurance rate in Arkansas has been cut in half. Specifically focusing on Jonesboro, it would have killed our local economy. Two of the three largest employers are hospitals."
Smith opposes the private option, although he voted for the appropriation that ultimately allowed it to continue during the special session earlier this year (he made this vote, he said, because at least this year he was unwilling to hold up the entire Medicaid budget to block it).
"I still hold my original position [on the private option]," Smith said. "I'd like to see it go away. I think there are potentially other options out there."
Asked about what would happen to the hundreds of thousands of Arkansans who would lose their health insurance and the billions in uncompensated care costs that hospitals say they would face, Smith said, "If it does come to an abrupt end, there has to be something in its place that people can receive care. I don't want to see hospitals bankrupted. I am worried — we have two major hospitals in Jonesboro. These hospitals serve a great need in our communities."
Asked whether he had an alternative to propose, Smith replied, "I don't think it's very smart to say I want it to end and not have a clear path ahead." He said he personally didn't have an alternative plan for coverage but was hopeful that others would.
Smith said he believes that his conservative agenda on social issues will give him an advantage in the district. "I've tried to really hold my ground on protecting the sanctity of life and also our Second Amendment gun rights," he said. "I'm very strong pro-life. I'm very strong in support of the sanctity of marriage. It's important that the side I really come down on understands that there is a difference between a strong, conservative Republican and an opponent who leans more left."
Smith said he hoped to be active in attempts to defund Planned Parenthood. "A lot of people have said, 'I can't believe Rep. Smith still believes in pro-life policies in this day and age,' " he said. "My response is there is nothing noble in killing an unborn baby."
Looney said that abortion should not be reduced to a black-and-white issue. "If I was in that position, I wouldn't make that choice," he said. "But from a policy perspective, the Supreme Court has spoken. Recently we've seen a lot of challenges on the state level and at the end of the day it's costing our state a lot of money. So I don't think those are the battles we need to be fighting — it's reckless when we know it's completely unconstitutional." Looney argued that the best way to reduce the number of abortions was to improve education, offer people more opportunities, and increase access to family planning services.
On guns, Looney said, "I think the Second Amendment provides for certain freedoms and certain rights — like every other right that's given to us, we don't have an unqualified right to do everything we want with it. So we have to have a reasonable approach to making sure that people are safe, and we also need balance to make sure people have their rights guaranteed by the Second Amendment."
Smith made headlines during his freshman term as a legislator during his unsuccessful push for his "American Laws for American Courts" bill. Smith held up an education bill sponsored by Sen. Joyce Elliott (D-Little Rock) and was quoted at the time as saying it was "retribution" for Elliott calling for a roll call that left his own bill short in committee. Smith eventually apologized on the House floor.
Smith's bill was modeled on legislation pursued in other states and its stated aim was to "protect ... citizens from the application of foreign laws" — though such bills do not explicitly mention Sharia law, it is widely seen as their focus.
"When you deal with tribal people or people from other countries that have their own legal system, oftentimes when they immigrate to the United States, they are fleeing oppression or they're seeking better opportunities," Smith said. "But in some of these cases, most of these immigrants tend to cluster in areas where there are other people of the same ethnicity and cultural background, so they have a hard time assimilating into our country. ... In some cases they also bring their problems with them, and they'll bring a legal system with them."
Smith said he was still concerned with the threat of Sharia law and, if re-elected, plans to push hard to get the bill passed.
Looney called the bill "a solution searching for a problem."
"I think we have different policy priorities," he said. "If I'm elected, I'm going to focus on education, I'm going to focus on infrastructure, and I'm going to focus on health care. Those are things that are proven to help grow our economy and help people. Those are the things that I'm fighting for. If he's elected and that's the bill he wants to run, that's his right to do so. My priority is going to be elsewhere."
Hendrix politics professor Jay Barth said that the Smith-Looney race could be a bellwether for the region, which Republicans swept in 2014. "We've seen this district swing back and forth over the last few years," Barth said. "The presidential year is better for Democrats because of turnout patterns."
The Democrats are fielding a strong candidate in Looney, Barth said, and the Jonesboro area could represent a pickup opportunity with Donald Trump on the presidential ballot. "Trump is just getting demolished among better educated voters," Barth said, "and this is one of the handful of districts where you have a higher percentage of college-educated folks around the university."
Barth concluded, "If the Democrats can't win this district in this context with this candidate, it really is all over [for Democrats] in Northeast Arkansas."
The Observer is a known and incorrigible haunter of thrift stores. Some weekends, with Spouse in tow, we'll make the rounds of every Goodwill store in three counties, driving them on a carefully pre-planned circuit so we can stop midway and get coffee at our favorite little place. It's a fun way to spend an afternoon in the company of the love of this fair to middlin' life, even if we're around 65 percent certain it'll net us a case of the cooties one of these days.
For a student of the human condition like Yours Truly, a trip to the thrift store can be enlightening. You can learn a lot from the things people buy and then come to realize they no longer need, or didn't need in the first place: towel warmers, bread makers, a cutting board in the shape of Idaho, a wedding dress, a dedicated electric cocoa pot. A few weekends back, we found a stainless steel Bienville wine chiller that claimed on the box that it could, through a space-age process, cool a bottle of vino from liquor store temperature to 57 degrees in seven minutes flat. We toted it around for a while, intent on throwing a speedy frost on our bottles of Big K Cola and Old Milwaukee, but soon remembered the severe lack of counter space at The Observatory.
All this stuff! Where does it come from? Where is it going? Why were you ever possessed to buy such a thing in the first place, Dear Reader? Sixteen tons of late-nite infomercial exercise equipment. Genuine Miniature New Zealand Ceremonial War Clubs. Enough golf bags to outfit a regiment of Tiger Woodses. Ski boots, ice skates and snow blowers, all of which look pretty funny with the African-savanna-style heat of an Arkansas summer punishing folks outside. Enough copies of "The Art of the Deal" to build Dorito Mussolini's beeootiful wawl between the U.S. and Mexico. A few months back, we sauntered into the Goodwill in North Little Rock and found a 200-pound machine fitted with a saddle and stirrups that claimed it could simulate the sensation of horseback riding for fun and fitness. Sadly, the Observer's efforts to convince Spouse the Galloptron 5000 could be installed in the boudoir of The Observatory so as to facilitate a passible Lady Godiva impression warranted us only a slap on the arm and a rosy blush. We'll accept that.
You never know what you'll find, if anything, which is what keeps us going. This past weekend, out at the Goodwill on Markham, what we found was a whole bunch of fur coats, apparently the abandoned or forgotten contents of a cold-storage locker, judging by the claim tickets still dangling from sleeves. There were maybe 50 of them hanging there on racks near the door: mink and silver fox, sable and beaver, all in perfect condition, and all fairly cheap as far as a fur coat goes. The tickets showed most of them had been put into storage around the time Ronald Reagan was finishing up his second term. Nearly all had a woman's name embroidered in elegant script inside the liner, which made us wonder sadly what had to happen for so marvelous a thing to wind up forgotten.
We were sorely tempted to count our pennies and buy one, especially after convincing Spouse to slip into a floor-length mink so heavy it would have surely had the wearer in a deep sweat during the coldest Arkansas February known to modern science. Must have cost a fortune when new. Goodwill price: $300. Like we said, tempted. But eventually we hung it back on the rack for some Tony Soprano type to find and buy to smooth things over with his gun moll. As for Yours Truly, the life of a Goodwill fan is unlikely to ever be glamorous enough to need such finery.
In Mark Johnson's telling, the other boy hit him first. It was the fall of 2008 and Johnson was a freshman at Prescott High School when he injured his back at football practice. The fight began after another student teased him about his back brace; the pestering escalated into a physical confrontation in which the two boys traded blows. Johnson was suspended from school for three days.
Gloria Majors, Johnson's grandmother, said the suspension itself was not the problem. "He shouldn't have hit the boy, and the boy shouldn't have hit him. ... We know they have a zero-tolerance policy as far as fighting. If you're hit, you're supposed to go tell somebody and not hit them back," she said recently. "My problem was that when they suspended him, it was right at the time for [end-of-semester] testing, and so he missed his tests." The other student received only in-school suspension, Majors added, meaning he was able to complete his testing. (She said she was told the student received special education services and was therefore treated differently under the district's discipline policy. That student, like Johnson, was African-American.)
Majors sought leniency from the dean of students and the superintendent, both of whom told her there was nothing she could do. Finally, she appealed to the Prescott School Board. "I told them I thought it was not fair for [Mark] to not be able to make up his classes," she said. "And I told them that I thought our first goal in school was to educate our children. This wasn't discipline — this was punishment, which is something different. Discipline is about trying to correct behavior. ... You're trying to help that person change that behavior, not just punish them."
Majors' appearance before the school board was a month after the fight itself. Then, the day after the board meeting, "a sheriff came to my daughter's house and brought a FINS [family in need of services] letter from the judge saying my grandson needed to appear in court." A FINS petition is a legal document that can open the door to the juvenile justice system; it may be filed by a parent or guardian, a school official or another adult. Majors believes the petition was filed because she challenged school district policy.
"I'd never heard of FINS before — none of my kids ever had to go to a court, thank God — but why did they send that, 30 days after the fight and just after I went to the school board?" she asked. "He hadn't done anything else. He had already been suspended. So the only thing it could have been is that I took those avenues to try to change things in terms of discipline." Majors sought advice from a family member who worked for a judge across the state. "He said, 'Don't let him get into that criminal justice system, because it can damage you for the rest of his life,'" she recalled. Majors hired a lawyer, and after two court appearances, the juvenile judge dismissed the case.
Perhaps no single issue in the United States burns as hotly today as the treatment of African-Americans at the hands of law enforcement. Yet police shootings are only the most macabre examples of a much larger institutional phenomenon: From prisons to courts to schools, whenever punitive measures come into play, black people tend to receive a disproportionate share of the punishment. Black K-12 students nationwide are three times as likely as white students to be suspended or expelled, according to a 2014 report from the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights. American Indian students are also suspended and expelled at disproportionately higher rates, and students with disabilities are suspended much more often than those without disabilities. (In this sense, the school's less punitive treatment of the other student in Mark Johnson's story departs from the statistical norm.)
While a suspension may seem trivial compared to an officer-involved shooting, being removed from school for even a short period often has an outsized impact on a child's life. There is a growing consensus among education experts that "exclusionary" consequences such as suspensions or expulsions should be used as sparingly as possible. Suspensions can hurt students academically, stigmatize them among both peers and adults, create opportunities for them to get into trouble outside of school, and establish a pattern of hostile encounters with authority figures that sets the stage for later interactions with the criminal justice system.
The disparities in Arkansas are stark. In the 2014-15 school year, there were five out-of-school suspensions for every 100 white students statewide. For every 100 black students, there were 29 out-of-school suspensions. The in-school suspension rate was about three times higher for black students than for white students, and the expulsion rate was about twice as high. Black students were also more likely to receive corporal punishment ("paddlings" are still used in many Arkansas schools). Meanwhile, the suspension rates for both white and black students have increased over the past few years — a fact troubling in its own right.
Those numbers were presented to the state Board of Education in February by Gary Ritter, a researcher at the University of Arkansas's Office for Education Policy, and are derived from the discipline data that every traditional public school district is required to report to the Arkansas Department of Education. Ritter told the state board that "there is a clear disparity problem" in Arkansas. That's not surprising, given national patterns. The new and important thing about the Arkansas data is that it includes both disciplinary infractions and punishments, allowing Ritter and UA graduate student Kaitlin Anderson to analyze the linkage between student actions and the adult responses to those behaviors. Their findings deliver an even sharper indictment of racial disparities in school discipline.
The researchers' analysis shows that African-American students are disproportionately represented in both infractions and consequences. "That's really important," Ritter told the Arkansas Times. "[Black] students are being written up at higher rates, but even given that, when they're written up for the same type of incident, they're more likely to receive exclusionary discipline" — that is, out-of-school suspension, expulsion or being sent to an alternative school.
For example, black students are more likely to be cited for "disorderly conduct." And while white students written up for disorderly conduct are given an exclusionary consequence around 12 percent of the time, black students written up for that offense are given an exclusionary consequence about 25 percent of the time. Similarly, African-American students are cited for "insubordination" much more often than white students, and are also more likely to be suspended for that offense. About 19 percent of insubordination offenses result in exclusionary discipline if the student is black, but only 11 percent of white students cited for insubordination get such a punishment.
It is important to note that both of these consequences are highly subjective ones. Schools and districts may define offenses differently from one another, as may individual teachers and administrators. And in fairness to educators, some subjectivity is warranted: The severity of a consequence should surely vary with the severity of the infraction. Both the student who fails to follow a directive in the classroom and the student who publicly curses out a teacher may be considered "insubordinate," for example.
But subjectivity also cuts the other way. Ritter notes the data doesn't account for possible disparities in what is reported as an infraction in the first place, perhaps as a result of the implicit bias of adults: "We aren't standing at the school when the administrator observes a fight and decides which student involved to cite for fighting, for example. Or sees a middle-class kid be insubordinate and chooses to say, 'Stop it, go away,' and sees a disadvantaged kid be insubordinate and chooses to say, 'I'm going to write you up.' All of that could still be happening." What the data does show is that when a black student is declared to be insubordinate, he or she is more likely to be suspended as a result.
African-American students are also more likely to be suspended for less subjective offenses. Although a lower percentage of black students are cited for tobacco possession, they're far more likely to be suspended when they are. White students are given an exclusionary consequence for tobacco possession in about 27 percent of offenses, compared to 57 percent of black students. Possessing a knife is an offense that gets most students suspended or expelled — but even here, black students are slightly less likely to be treated with leniency. White students caught with knives are given an exclusionary consequence around 68 percent of the time, black students about 75 percent of the time. (However, Ritter cautioned against drawing overly broad conclusions from these two infractions, since they constitute a small percentage of total offenses reported by schools.)
Then there is truancy, which carries its own troubling implications. Most students, of all races, receive in-school suspension for this offense, but white students are suspended 6 percent of the time and black students 14 percent of the time. The disparity is clear, Ritter said, "but the real problem is that [out-of-school suspension] is not a legal remedy for truancy according to Act 1329 of 2013." For obvious reasons, it makes little sense to suspend a student for skipping school, but such is the over-reliance on suspensions as a discipline tool. The discipline data shows that in 2014-15, 29 schools in the state used out-of-school suspensions to punish truancy in 100 percent of truancy cases.
All of this data comes with caveats, Ritter said. While school districts are required to turn over disciplinary figures to the state, reporting standards surely vary across Arkansas's hundreds of districts. "We're not sure how it was kept — people don't have the eyes on it that they do with [standardized] testing data." Also, schools often place both infractions and consequences into an "other" category. ("Other" was the most frequent infraction type reported in the 2014-15 school year, comprising 38 percent of all infractions.) As for consequences, "we don't know if 'Other' means a very strict, exclusionary discipline or a visit to the office where the principal says 'Hey, don't do that again,' " he explained.
If one simply looks at the disparity in suspension rates relative to race, Ritter said, "this could be two types of misbehavior: misbehavior of adults, who are disproportionately suspending students respective to their race, or misbehavior of kids, that kids in this group are misbehaving at a different rate, and that these suspensions are perfectly consistent with the rate of misbehavior. Looking at this graphic alone, you can't distinguish between those two stories. ... It depends on what you're predisposed to think.
"But the nice thing about this data is they connect the incident — the infraction — to the consequence that follows. So we can, to some extent, distinguish between those two stories."
After Ritter's report in February, the state board requested the Education Department re-examine how it requires districts to report discipline data, and changes have been made in the current 2016-17 school year. Eric Saunders, the department's Assistant Commissioner of Fiscal and Administrative Services, said ADE has "added some additional codes to capture ... more specific information" about both infractions and consequences. Codes added on the infraction side include "cell phone," "public display of affection" and "cyberbullying"; those added on the consequence side include "detention," "parent/guardian conference" and "Saturday school." This spring, the board will hear from Ritter about findings from the 2015-16 school year data.
In an interview earlier this year, Mireya Reith, the current chair of the state board, expressed great concern about the racial disparities. "The Office for Education Policy has presented this report for three years, and each year the evidence is more and more revealing," she said. "The data very much verifies that African-American males are punished more severely than other kids. ... Each [year] we've asked OEP to go a level deeper, and each time it reaffirms it."
Yet, Ritter said, there is also more than one possible explanation for the fact that African-American students receive stricter punishments than do their white peers. "One way is that I am an administrator at a school, and I could observe a white student and a black student engage in identical misbehavior, and then I could more severely punish the black student relative to the white student. Alternatively, it could be the case that black students attend schools that engage in more severe disciplinary strategies.
"What we've found so far is that this [disparity] is almost fully driven by different disciplinary strategies within different schools serving different types of kids. In other words, schools that serve black students tend to punish more severely than schools that serve fewer black students." Ritter was careful to note that such differences may "still be due to an ingrained racial bias: I might be an administrator at a school that's serving 80 percent disadvantaged students, so I have my views that are driving my responses." Although the researchers concluded that "between school differences" rather than "within school differences" accounted for most of the disparity, they still found "a small negative premium on being African-American when it comes to punishment."
However, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania who researches racial disparities in school discipline disputed those conclusions. Shaun R. Harper is the executive director of UPenn's Center for the Study of Race and Equity in Education and the author of a paper published last year examining disproportionate rates of suspensions and expulsions in Southern states. Drawing on the data that districts report to the U.S. Department of Education, Harper and co-author Edward J. Smith found that 13 Southern states accounted for roughly half of all suspensions and expulsions of African-American students in the U.S., despite containing just 24 percent of the nation's black students. They then broke down the data by school district to derive a "disproportionate impact factor" for each one — meaning "the number of times black students are over-suspended relative to their enrollment in a district's public schools."
Harper said such inequalities are mostly due to the implicit biases of educators. "Very little happens in teacher and administrator certification programs to awaken the consciousness of aspiring educators," he told the Times. "They consume the same media as the rest of us and the same deficit narratives about communities of color." Often, he said, "people are not fully conscious about what they're doing" when it comes to treating African-American students differently than others. When he recently presented his data to educators in Georgia, he said, "there was sort of a collective jaw-drop in the audience. That's interesting because these were the people handing out the suspensions and expulsions.
"I think another point that's really important is the racial makeup of the educational workforce. Eighty percent of educators are white, and the overwhelming majority are women — white female teachers who never had any sort of consciousness-raising education around race and their implicit biases around racial others."
But might "between school differences" account much for the disparity? "Our data doesn't show that," Harper responded. "That's one of the reasons we provided data for 3,000 school districts, so people could see that these are trends that reach across schools that are predominately black and predominately white." (It should be noted that Harper's data covers a different school year than the UA researchers'.)
Vast as the "implicit bias" problem may be, it is not intractable, Harper believes. "I'm a professor in a school of education. We have to do a better job of raising the consciousness of teachers and aspiring principals before we send them out in the educational workforce. ... We also need professional development for in-service teachers — whether you've been teaching one year, five years, 10 years or 20 years. ... I'm not talking hypothetically. The center that we do here at Penn, we do dozens of [PD sessions] for teachers around the year."
Finally, Harper said, "we have to do a better job of teaching [educators] alternatives to suspension and expulsion." He advocates a "restorative justice" approach, in which students work to resolve conflicts in small groups or councils led by mediators, often their peers. "Instead of just punishing ... [you're] helping to understand why a student committed an infraction," he said. "The council tries to figure out, 'How can you help make this work?' ... This is about a cultural change at the school." In 2014, he authored a study of 40 traditional public high schools in New York City — all of which were mostly attended by low-income black and Latino students — that successfully adopted such an approach.
Gloria Majors is working to implement a similar strategy in the Prescott School District. In 2010, two years after the incident with her grandson, she attended a meeting held by an organizer from the Arkansas Public Policy Panel, a Little Rock-based progressive grassroots organization. Majors and others started the Concerned Citizens of Prescott, and the group is working with the school district to craft less punitive discipline policies. They're also laboring to improve prekindergarten education in the town as part of the "Good to Great" initiative, a project of the Public Policy Panel, Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families and Arkansas State University. A grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation funds the effort.
Much has changed in the past eight years, Majors said. Mark Johnson graduated high school and is now a senior at ASU in Jonesboro, where he plays football and has been on the A-State Athletics Director's Honor Roll the past two years. The Prescott district changed leaders several years ago, and Majors said the new superintendent, Robert Poole, has been receptive to her group's concerns. The district's student handbook committee also relented somewhat on its zero-tolerance policy.
"Now, they're doing real good," she said. "We have built a relationship with our superintendent so that we can go to him and talk about things that are on our mind." In partnership with the same coalition of organizations working on pre-K, the Concerned Citizens of Prescott has secured funding to help institute a training for faculty called "Conscious Discipline," an approach similar to restorative justice. The Prescott School District is also contributing to the cost of the training, which is about $11,000 in total. "It's a way to give the students self-esteem and ... [to help] teachers know how to talk to them [to] change their attitude. ... The emphasis is on positive behavior," Majors said.
Poole said he's open to trying new approaches to discipline. "The way I'm looking at it is, it's another way, another tool for teachers to handle their classrooms," he said. "We're all about educating the whole child, to help them become better citizens. In today's world, it's very important to learn how to resolve conflicts. ... I'm always open to new ideas, and if it makes it better, I'm for it."
This fall, he and his high school principal will be attending a conference on restorative justice in New York. "We'd like to learn more about it, all the ins and outs and everything, so we can bring it back here and start trying to incorporate some of these things with our teachers. You know, it's not an overnight approach — a one-hour [professional development] and you start doing it the next day. We're preparing all year for this so we can plan on professional development for our teachers for next summer so they can then put it in place next school year."
That being said, it may be a harder sell for administrators and faculty to accept the "implicit bias" arguments that researchers like Shaun Harper see as central to the discipline gap. According to the data in Harper's UPenn study, the disproportionate impact factor at the Prescott School District is 1.6 — that is, a black student is 1.6 times more likely as a white student to be suspended. That's lower than many districts in the state, but it's still significant.
Poole said his district doesn't discriminate against students. "To me, when kids are on this campus, kids are Curley Wolves [the school mascot]. I don't say, 'There goes a white kid, there goes a black kid.' They're students. Regardless of race, we want every student to be successful. ... Now, if a teacher doesn't treat that kid the same like they should? That's in that teacher's heart and mind as to why is she doing that. ... We want to educate all students, and if a student gets in trouble for something, all students should get in trouble for that. If a teacher handles it this way, we expect them to handle every situation like that in the same way."
Disparities in discipline rates are more attributable to poverty than to race, he suggested. "Somebody else from the outside may look at the data and see racial [bias] and all, but I don't see it that way. ... It more comes from economic status, and what sort of resources and training those kids have had before they get here ... regardless of if they're white or black. I think that has more to do with anything than a racial makeup. ... It's not that one race has an advantage over another.
"We're a high-poverty district. So many kids don't have access to preschool, and start off behind the eight ball before they even start kindergarten. ... For me, it's the quality of the preschools and the accessibility. I wish it were mandatory for every kid to have preschool before we got them. ... A lot of these kids are being raised by a brother or sister at home, while their single-parent mom or dad is out working." Poole commended the work of the Good to Great initiative in trying to boost the quality of pre-K.
(Ritter said he and Anderson looked for a similar correlation between suspension rates and a whether a student receives free or reduced school lunch. They found that disciplinary disparities based on students' low-income status are "in the same direction but not as severe" as those based on race. "It tells roughly the same story, but not to the same magnitude." However, Ritter added, "I would say that if we're just discriminating on a different marker ... that's still discrimination.")
When Majors graduated from high school in 1964, the Prescott schools were still segregated. Today — unlike some communities, where schools are still heavily divided by race — all students attend the same elementary, middle and high school. The district is 55 percent white, 38 percent black and about 6 percent Latino; it's also about 75 percent low-income.
Majors knows there's hardly consensus around issues of race. "We still have a ways to go. We did a survey through the Public Policy Panel about our community and how people are feeling about it, and we found out that most white people felt like everything was OK and things were going good, but most black people didn't feel that it was going as well," she said. Nonetheless, she feels things are improving. "Prescott is really making progress in race relations. I'm just excited about how we're doing. ... I think if we learn to trust one another and talk to one another and communicate, then it's going to be a lot better." She's hopeful about a "ministerial alliance" working to build bridges between black churches and white churches in Prescott. And she feels a less punitive, more thoughtful approach to discipline will benefit everyone.
"I think if we can get that going, and each teacher gets that training and can apply that training, it would help students all around — no matter what color they are," she said.
Last year, Majors got a call from the school district about a disciplinary incident involving another one of her grandchildren (she has 11 in all).
"[He] was sitting in the cafeteria — he was just in eighth grade at the time — and this boy came over and whopped him. And we found out later that the boy's sister and my grandson were talking, and he didn't like it, because he was white and my grandson is black. ... And so we spoke to the parent and talked about, 'What can we do to stop this?' Eventually she took the girl out of the school ... I think she's back at school again now."
Ironically, the change that Majors had successfully pushed for kept the white student from being automatically given out-of-school suspension. "I was the one who brought it up: 'The first time you do something, you don't need to be suspended for it — just give them an in-school suspension.' Well, that's what that boy got." Majors laughed. "And that's what he should've got."
From the web
In response to the Sept. 26 Arkansas Blog post, "John Walker and another lawyer arrested while filming police":
In my experience John Walker has always been the perfect gentleman that you do not want to mess with. He's a bulldog, and will not let a real or perceived wrong go unpunished.
One of the things that keep us from being a police state is the public's right to know how police operate. If they're doing something in public, the public has a right to film it. If there's any question about that, the law needs to be made perfectly clear.
I know John Walker. He's smart and generous, and has a strong and obvious commitment to helping young people reach their potential. He's been a crusader for racial justice for decades and has certainly made Arkansas a better place. But he's also stubborn and arrogant, and at times it prevents him from rethinking his positions, considering new information, or imagining that he's wrong or poorly informed. He's always a formidable adversary, and Little Rock will regret the day their police officers tangled with him in such an indefensible way.
Hi, I'm John Walker, I sue schools for a living, then drag it out for 30+ years and charge $450 an hour for my legal services. Don't mind me while I walk through the middle of a police investigation and not give a fuck.
I have no problem with him filming whatever he wants, but you cannot obstruct a governmental operation while it is being conducted by the police. Sounds like they tried to be nice and politely asked him to back away, and he did not. I guess he can use the old and senile excuse in court.
arkansas panic fan
It amazes me the number of you who automatically believe Mr. Walker is right.
In response to the Sep. 19 Arkansas Blog post, "Jason Rapert: Goes off again on Muslims; erupts again over Facebook edit":
I know Brother Rapert knows better since he is a constitutional scholar, but the First Amendment does not apply to Facebook. Facebook can establish its own rules.
By the way, how nice that the "senator" is using his title to throw around willy-nilly with companies whose policies bother him.
Facebook, though publicly traded, is a private company providing its services free to the public. It's under no obligation to post whatever Rapert might say. It's called capitalism, senator.
Ah, Mr. Rapert — thinks he's a Big Fish when he is in reality but a minnow in the vast ocean of life.
Fuck Jason Rapert. That's exercising my First Amendment rights under the U.S. Constitution. Max et al can exercise their rights regarding this website and I am happy either way they go. My ego can handle such.
Jason's ego, monstrous as it is (in all regards and meanings), tends to mewl and whine like the bully he is when he doesn't get his way.
Jake da Snake
Remember when Chick-fil-A was making money hand-over-fist with its anti-gay marketing stunt and all of our more gullible Christian friends were bragging about how much Chick-fil-A they were going to eat because this "Christian" corporation had every right to discriminate against gay people? So, why is SENATOR rAPErt getting so fired up that his post was blocked by a large corporation called Facebook?
The First Amendment does apply to Facebook. Or at least rights under the First Amendment do. It's a private enterprise that can refuse to allow tripe if it wants to. The senator thinks his position in the state government makes Facebook somehow answerable to him. The First Amendment says otherwise.
Jason Rapert really gives God a bad name. He drives people away from God by twisting scripture, just as Satan did when he tempted Jesus.
The difference is that Satan simply sought to tempt Christ, whereas Rapert actively wants to hurt people. Satan can afford to fool around because people like Rapert do his evil work for him.
Just because Rapert cries "Lord, Lord" does not mean that the Lord knows his goaty face.
Paying Top Dollar for Legislators
In response to the Sep. 20 Arkansas Blog post, "Rapert claims victory over Facebook; either way, he still doesn't get 1st Amendment":
What is wrong with this man/child? Does he not have anything of substance to do besides play on the computer? It appears the most important thing in his life is making a laughing stock of himself via social media.
Surely there is someone in his life who cares enough about him to convince him to unplug so maybe he can regain a tiny shred of dignity ... if one ever existed.
Rapert's religious-based radicalism, tinged as it is with veiled and sometimes not-so-veiled threats of "holy" violence against "others" based on his so-called deeply held religious beliefs, is the same phenomena that he decries as threatening from those whom he would ban from entering this country.
He then plays the Xian-victim card re his false narrative of Facebook violating his free speech rights. Of course.
It's obvious the Bigelow Buffoon matriculated at some point at Trump University. His major was Blustery Puffery as a Way of Life.
You wonder why the state has any idea that a high tech company would think of relocating here when you have RAPERt and his unconstitutional laws and outbursts against reason and bitching about his religion being under attack and when there is a "6 Flags Over God" monument on every other street corner in Conway that doesn't have another monument to their other god, MoMoney.
If anything, we have too many so-called religious organizations that, obviously with their hate speech, should not be called Christians because they still have their nose stuck in the pre-Christ book of Leviticus. And from an intelligence basis, they sure aren't Jewish. Just hate speech by the bucket-load in Tea Party Faulkner County.