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Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Local Coverage- Little Rock: Community distrust & racial tensions escalate

City leaders say racial tension is still a major issue in the city of Little Rock. Thursday night Leaders met with community members for a forum to address race related problems. Most people talked about issues affecting the African-American community and the way they feel they're being treated by the city. While some asked about economic growth, most of the questions were geared towards the Little Rock Police Department and instances of alleged racial profiling.

Little Rock Police Chief Stuart Thomas could barely take a seat. That's because law enforcement dominated the conversation at the Racial and Cultural Diversity Commission community forum.

A man ( Chief Ean Lee Bordeaux, pro per, American Creole Indian Nation)  attending the forum said, "The perception is that racial sensitivity training is a cover.  It's a cover to try and train your rookies how to navigate their feelings but it doesn't change their feelings."

A city spokesperson says the commission held the forum to address rising tension related to the incident like the one documented in a web video. Officer David Edgmon was fired for using racial slurs in an exchange with a group of young black men in the Rivermarket last March. The civil service board reinstated him, now the city is appealing their decision. 

Police Chief Stuart Thomas said, "I think you have to make a statement. I think you have to hold public employees accountable to a certain standard of behavior and I believe that's what we did."

While people are glad the department isn't giving up, the incident has highlighted an ongoing rift between LRPD and the African-American community.  It's that rift that Matthew Rougely says inspired him to post this video to the web and speak out at the forum.

Rougely said, "I just wanted to post it so they couldn't deal with it quietly, cause it seems like these kinds of things are swept under the rug by the police."

City leaders are also aware of the divide, which is why they plan to have more forums that will hopefully lead to solutions. The city is also still waiting on a court date for its appeal to reverse the civil service board's decision to send Officer Edgmon back to work. The video of the incident is still on the web. The chief says he does not want that to define the public's perception of the department or the city.

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