A crowd of roughly 60 people gathered at the Arkansas state Capitol Monday to protest the exoneration of Little Rock police officer Charles Stark. He shot and killed Bradley Blackshire during a traffic stop earlier this year. The 30-year old black man was driving a stolen vehicle and footage released by the department showed Blackshire refused the officer's order to exit the car, which then slowly moved toward Stark.
On Friday, the Pulaski County prosecutor’s office announced no charges were warranted against the officer. Members of Blackshire’s family, including his mother and father, attended Monday's demonstration.
According to organizers, the Secretary of State's office denied their request for a demonstration permit. State Rep. Vivian Flowers, D-Pine Bluff, said the denial kept the group from having a podium and speaker system for the gathering. Instead, a megaphone was used for speeches from family members and other groups supporting the family.
Despite the relatively small number of protestors, over a dozen uniformed police patrolled the area. State Sen. Joyce Elliott, D-Little Rock, pointed out what she believed to be police officers monitoring the event from the roof of the Capitol and on top of a building across the street.
"This speaks so much to the perception of what people think when they assume it's just going to be a lot of people of color, or black people gathering somewhere, and that is patently unfair. That's not even implicit bias. That is explicit bias," Elliott said in an interview.
In an email, Secretary of State Spokesman Chris Powell said "security information from multiple law enforcement agencies" was partially responsible for denying the group a permit.
Tension and mistrust were evident in the opening remarks given by Bradley Blackshire's uncle, Rizelle Aaron.
"This is intended to be a peaceful, non-violent rally," Aaron said. "I will say this – that is subject to change if the police come and do anything to attack us or try to remove us from the steps that we helped to build."
Videos of the altercation between Officer Starks and Bradley Blackshire were released by the Little Rock Police Department after the shooting. Bradley’s mother, Kim Blackshire-Lee, and other protestors argue the footage shows the shooting was unwarranted and in violation of department policy.
"I don’t know what tape they watched, but the one I watched didn’t show me what they say they saw," she said.
Multiple speakers claimed the Blackshire shooting was the latest example of racial bias and violence against black people by the LRPD. The protest concluded without incident after an hour.
Organizers say more protests are being planned. The Secretary of State's office declined to confirm or deny the presence of police on the roof of the Capitol. They also would not comment on whether the security measures taken for the rally were standard procedure.