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Biden Administration officials talk health disparities, violence in Little Rock visit

Daniel Breen
Deputy Associate Attorney General Theron Pride speaks with reporters Monday at Stephens Elementary School in Little Rock.

Officials from the administration of President Joe Biden were in Little Rock on Monday to discuss the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on health equity and community violence.

Members of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, the U.S. Department of Education and the Department of Justice held a news conference at Stephens Elementary School as part of the White House’s Community Confidence Tour.

Deputy Associate Attorney General Theron Pride says the Biden Administration is working with states to look at how the pandemic has fueled the underlying causes of crime.

“Hunger, not being able to have the social services and the counseling, not being able to have access to other stable supports. People need mentors, young people need a place to go and talk about what bothers them,” Pride said. “That’s not often easy, and far too many parents are also dealing with the trauma that’s been caused by the pandemic.”

Pride also cited the success of a program known as Project Safe Neighborhoods, which encourages greater cooperation among law enforcement agencies. Acting U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Arkansas Jonathan Ross said that partnership has led his district to have one of the highest caseloads in the country outside of border states.

“That comes with over half of our caseload being in the category of gun violence and Project Safe Neighborhood cases where we adopt state and local cases for federal prosecution. That partnership could not have been as successful as it has been over the last several years without the resources of the City of Little Rock, the Little Rock Police Department,” Ross said.

White House Senior Policy Advisor for Equity Dr. Cameron Webb and U.S. Department of Education Deputy Assistant Secretary Dr. Aaliyah Samuel were also in attendance at Monday’s news conference. Mayor Frank Scott Jr. was in Washington, D.C. to attend President Biden’s signing of a $1 trillion infrastructure bill.

Little Rock School Superintendent Michael Poore praised the Biden Administration’s investments in public schools across the country.

“Just for the Little Rock School District, $64 million worth of [Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief] federal funds that have come in, that’s allowing us to go one-on-one with our technology, it’s allowing us to handle the pandemic in thoughtful ways, and it’s helping us with social-emotional learning," Poore said. "That’s everything from training our staff, to having after-care programs to make sure that everyone is taken care of.”

Dr. Michelle Smith directs the Office of Health Equity and HIV Elimination at the Arkansas Department of Health. She cited ongoing efforts to boost the number of people getting vaccinated for COVID-19, including the first pediatric vaccine clinic which was held at Stephens Elementary on Monday.

“In February of this year, we held our first health equity community clinic in Pine Bluff, where we vaccinated over 500 residents. Since that time we have hosted over 90 vaccination clinics, vaccinating over 16,000 individuals in partnership with mayors and pharmacies across the state,” Smith said.

She said upcoming vaccine clinics for kids are set for Friday at Bobby Lester Elementary School in Jacksonville and Saturday at the Jack Stephens Center on the campus of UA Little Rock.

Daniel Breen is a Little Rock-based reporter, anchor and producer for KUAR.