After two nights of raucous demonstrations at the Arkansas State Capitol, a curfew is being put into effect beginning Monday night in Little Rock. National Guard troops are also on standby to assist law enforcement in potentially violent situations as demonstrations are held against police brutality. There are concerns that some protesters are from outside the area and working to provoke violence.
During press conferences Monday in Rogers and Little Rock, Gov. Asa Hutchinson said he respects and supports peaceful protests, but that violence and the destruction of property "will not be tolerated." Authorities used chemical agents on Saturday and Sunday night to force protesters to disperse. Police say rocks, bricks and bottles had been thrown at officers, while some protesters caused property damage, mainly by breaking the windows of buildings near the Capitol.
The governor said officials were especially concerned late Sunday when protesters began using flammable liquid and igniting fires in the road. The 501 Building, which is directly across from the Capitol and houses some state offices, was also broken into, Hutchinson said, and there were fears it would be set on fire. It had also been vandalized the night before.
Demonstrations began peacefully in Little Rock on Saturday and Sunday afternoons over the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, but tensions grew during the evening hours with Arkansas State Police ordering crowds at the Capitol both nights to disperse.
Floyd died after an officer pressed his knee into Floyd’s neck for several minutes, even after Floyd said he couldn’t breathe, prompting demonstrations throughout the country.
Hutchinson said he understands the emotions being felt by protesters and estimated that 90% of those taking part have good intentions.
"The senseless death of George Floyd in Minnesota while in custody and the control of police and while begging for his life by saying 'I can’t breathe' has rightfully sparked protests and resulted in fear, distrust and outrage across our country," Hutchinson said in Rogers.
Later in Little Rock, the governor said he had activated the National Guard on Saturday, but asked them to stay positioned at Camp Robinson in North Little Rock. On Sunday, as violence escalated at the Capitol, Hutchinson said the National Guard responded to protect nonviolent protestors and property.
Little Rock Mayor Frank Scott, Jr. signed an executive order Monday instituting a curfew, which will be in effect from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. A press release from his office said the city had received intelligence, including information from U.S. Attorney Cody Hiland, that "professional, out-of-state antagonists, posing as protesters, intend to be destructive during future protests and strategically instigate acts of violence."
Hutchinson was among governors who took part in a conference call with President Trump Monday, who reportedly called governors "weak" and urged them to deploy National Guard troops or request federal military assistance to prevent violence at demonstrations.
Since Arkansas hasn’t experienced the kind of violence seen elsewhere in the country, Hutchinson said he views the situation in the state as a civilian law enforcement responsibility, with the National Guard as a backup.
During a press conference on Sunday, Mayor Scott said he was glad there had been no major damage or injuries during events in the city. A police officer sustained minor injuries Saturday night after being hit by an object.
"I will continue to stress how proud I am of the residents of Little Rock that walked the streets and even walked the interstate in a peaceful manner," Scott said, referring to the shutdown of Interstate 630 on Saturday night.
"We have to understand that we have people in a city, in a land that are experiencing hurt, heart aching pain. Pain of not just George Floyd in Minneapolis, the pain of black men and women that have been experiencing deaths this year, last year and many years ago."