Adjoa A. Aiyetoro, a member of the faculty at the UALR law school who began her legal career as a staff attorney in the civil rights division of the Justice Department, apparently shares my low opinion of the statement issued by Little Rock police via Twitter following the no-indictment decision in Ferguson, Mo.
It said the department would “allow” peaceful demonstrations but not tolerate unlawful conduct. I indicated at the time that it seemed, at least, superfluous. Also authoritarian. Also condescending. Also I got no response to a question I sent to the department’s nominal press spokesman about why it was issued in the first place.
Back to Aiyetoro. She sent the following letter to new Chief Kenton Buckner:
Dear Chief Buckner,
I turned on Channel 11 News yesterday morning at 6:30 to see their report on the grand jury’s decision in St. Louis County, Missouri on the indictment of Officer Wilson. My colleague and friend, Associate Dean of Academic Affairs Felecia Epps provided a legal analysis of the decision. I was dismayed to see the LRPD’s statement on the screen indicating you would “allow” a peaceful demonstration; however, the LRPD “would not accept or tolerate destructive unlawful conduct.”
I was dismayed for several reasons:
(1) Your message was not supportive of the Little Rock community and rather, came across as a threat and an act of intimidation of those who may choose to demonstrate.
(2) I have been in Little Rock for more than 10 years and know of no instance where there has been a violent demonstration. So your message, in the context of Little Rock -the city over which you and your department have police authority- seemed to have no basis and thus only increased its intimidating and threatening nature.
(3) Your message appeared to lack an understanding of the United States Constitution that guarantees no government interference with the right of free speech – the First Amendment to the Constitution. As several participants in the recent National Bar Association Town Hall Meeting at Allison Presbyterian Church (co-sponsored by the W. Harold Flowers Law Society and the UALR Bowen School of Law’s Black Law Students Association), said in response to a comment you made about protests after the indictment, peaceful protests are our right. It is a right allowed by the U.S. Constitution and one that you and police departments throughout the country have a duty to protect.
(4) Finally, the LRPD statement did not reflect any compassion for or sensitivity to what young black men may feel after this grand jury decision. A young black man who was identified as a student at UALR spoke well on this point. He indicated that young black men had always been fearful of being a target and that this grand jury decision only increased that fear.
It is my view there was no need for the LRPD to issue a statement at all. However, since you felt compelled to do so, the statement should have confirmed that there is no target on the backs of young black men in Little Rock and that your officers will protect the right of people to engage in a peaceful demonstration.
Adjoa A. Aiyetoro
Buckner has made a show of increasing community communications. He got a ton of TV this week for distributing free turkeys. But the reality of the new regime has been something else. We know less about police operations than we’ve ever known. Police radio traffic is no longer available to the public in real time. Police reports are harder to come by. Response to questions to the designated press spokesmen are rarer. The Little Rock record remains marred by police brutality that — if not always a product of malicious behavior — is sometimes a result of incompetent police action by officers who haven’t learned from past mistakes.
Who decided the LRPD needed to issue the statement on Ferguson? If there was a potential for violence in Little Rock — though I saw no evidence of it and no violence occurred — I’d hazard a guess that a finger-shaking letter distributed by Twitter wasn’t the best antidote. If this represents cutting-edge community outreach, we’re in for a bumpy ride.
UPDATE: Lt. Sidney Allen got back to me today after I requested a response to the letter and he said this was his response to my question Monday about why the statement was issued:
The statement was released to reduce the number of requests for a response.
He said there’d been no threats of violence at that point.
UPDATE: Lt. Allen also sent me a response to the letter from the UALR professor.
Dr. Aiyetoro, as indicated in my letter, Little Rock has shown itself to be a shining example of how disagreements can be resolved peacefully.
As the Chief, I understand that many people will disagree with my decisions and leadership. I will continue to try to build constructive relationships and move our city forward.
I pray that our great city will continue to focus on our common interest and respect our differences.
Happy Thanksgivings to you and your family.
Chief Kenton Buckner
Little Rock Police Department
UPDATE: Aiyetoro responds to the chief:
Your statement did not reflect this sentiment – if you thought Little Rock was such a shining example you would not have felt the need to write that type of statement. It was as you are now suggesting, unnecessary. You diverted from supporting our common interest by your statement and provided many law-abiding residents support for feeling a lack of confidence that you are the right person to lead a department that protects and serves the community.