A day of peaceful protests in Little Rock grew more intense and eventually turned to violence on Saturday. The scene played out in more than two dozen cities across the nation as people gathered to protest the May 25th death of George Floyd in Minnesota and the larger issue of police brutality.
Floyd, who was black, was choked to death on camera by white Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, who knelt on Floyd’s neck for more than eight minutes.
Floyd’s death has led to the arrest of Chauvin, who has been charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. Floyd’s killing also touched off a wave of protests – violent and non-violent – in Minnesota and across the country for several days over the issue of police brutality.
In Little Rock, a march of protestors gathered at the state capitol steps and walked down Capitol Avenue in the early afternoon. Later in the day, an apparent second protest began at the capitol and grew to block traffic on I-630 near the capitol exit. I-630 has long been a community dividing line in Little Rock between black and white residents as well as affluent and less affluent areas of the city.
By nightfall, the Arkansas State Police and Little Rock Police Department mobilized at the corner of 7th St. and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive and called on the protestors to disperse.
According to video obtained by Talk Business & Politics that was circulated on social media, a voice can be heard saying, “This is the Arkansas State Police. Leave the area immediately,” as tear gas canisters were targeted at the crowd of protestors.
Little Rock Mayor Frank Scott, Jr. said the Little Rock Police Department did not tear gas protestors.
“LRPD has not used tear gas. There are multiple agencies patrolling our city. Please go home,” Scott said in a late-night tweet.
KATV reporter Shelby Rose, who was reporting at the scene, tweeted, “I can say from first-hand experience tear gas was deployed tonight, however, it was by Arkansas State Police.”
While the daytime protests were peaceful and non-violent, during the police confrontation with protestors around 10 p.m., there were multiple reports of vandalism of businesses and buildings in the state capitol vicinity.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson issued a statement on Twitter around 10 p.m. on Saturday that read: “So many respectful protests today for the right reason; but destruction of property is not acceptable. I have directed the State Police to work with local law enforcement to stop the damage to the Capitol. The National Guard will be available as well.”