The difference between the peaceful rally and march to the courthouse and the chaos that followed at the corner of Oak and Harkrider streets on Sunday was night and day.
Around 3 p.m., hundreds of protestors of varying ages and races lined the sidewalks in front of businesses at the corner of Oak and Harkrider streets to show their outrage about George Floyd’s death at the hands of police officers in Minneapolis. They held signs with messages such as “I Can’t Breathe,” “Black Lives Matter,” “White Silence = White Violence” and more.
They chanted “Hands up, don’t shoot,” “No justice, no peace, prosecute the police” and “Who are we doing this for? George Floyd!”
Passersby honked, waved, cheered and raised their fists out their vehicle windows to show support, some yelling “I hear you” and “Justice for George Floyd.”
Some people brought bottled water and food to the protestors, who stood in the late afternoon heat for hours.
Two college-aged white women, who asked not be named, set aside their signs to help collect emptied water bottles and other discarded items and put them in a trash barrel. They told the Log Cabin Democrat they were “moved to tears” at the show of support from the community.
The protestors, as planned, then marched to the Faulkner County Courthouse. When they started to march, officers from the Conway Police Department, Faulkner County Sheriff’s Office, University of Central Arkansas Police Department and the Arkansas State Police blocked off streets so the protestors could safely march their way to the courthouse, where they continued their protest for nearly an hour before closing with a moment of silence for George Floyd and a prayer.
Protestors then marched down Oak Street to Conway Commons Shopping Center, where a group of people against the peaceful protest were waiting and the first signs of trouble began.
“At the shopping center the crowd became riled up when met with counter protesters. A small scuffle took place and one person was arrested,” CPD spokesman LaTresha Woodruff said.
Shortly thereafter, protestors made their way back to the corner of Oak and Harkrider streets and continued their protest “uninterrupted until nightfall, at which time it became dangerous for them to be out in the street, [so] protestors were asked to disburse,” Woodruff said.
Tensions began to escalate.
As law enforcement announced “this is your final warning” around 9:30 p.m., a few protestors walked away from the intersection of Harkrider and Oak streets as portions of the crowd began yelling aggressively in the officers’ faces.
One protestor, a white woman, said she participated in the event to show she cares and that black lives do matter.
“This is awesome. This is history,” she said of the protests surging across the nation.
While the crowd continued chanting, “Hands up, don’t shoot!” and “No justice, no peace, prosecute the police,” the woman, who wished to remain anonymous, said that while the officers had given their “final warning,” she wanted to watch the group fight for justice.
“This is why I don’t want to leave,” she said as Arkansas State Police began its formation. “I don’t want to see these people hurt, but this is history. I want to be on the right side of history; and I know that I’m on the right side of history. I am protesting because this is a civil rights movement. To see these people get together like this for a cause that is so profound across the nation right now with what’s going on … it really brings hope to me. Even if they do get hurt or tear gassed, I know that in their hearts and in my own heart, that it was for a good cause.”
An African-American family who remained on scene for the evening protests in downtown Conway said it was inspiring to see multiple races supporting the Black Lives Matter movement.
“What I like about it the most is it’s not just black people [out here],” the father said. “There’s white people; there’s Hispanic people. It’s the way it should be. I love that – them showing their support of what’s been going on. That’s the good part.”
The man’s son said that as a black man, he feels like he has a target on his back.
The family said they hope for justice and to see an end in racism.
Woodruff said that some protestors followed the orders to leave the area “but some started throwing water bottles and those who disobeyed orders to stop were instructed several times to leave the street or tear gas would be released,” which is what ultimately happened.
The ASP and CPD released tear gas into the crowd twice, Woodruff said.
By 11 p.m., protestors has cleared the area, officers had arrested six people on a charge of disorderly conduct and a police cruiser’s window was broken.
No injuries were reported and the broken window of the police cruiser was the only damage reported.
“While this event was not without incident, law enforcement did what it could to work with the protesters to keep it peaceful and safe,” Woodruff said. “At times officers embraced, shook hands and held productive conversations with people in the crowd.”
Gov. Asa Hutchinson addressed the protests, which have happened across the state and nation.
“It’s troubling to anyone who appreciates law enforcement and their role in public safety. And to see the death in such way, when George Floyd is crying out ‘I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe,’ you understand the outrage that the American people feel. The outrage that I feel. The disappointment we have in law enforcement officers that are sworn to uphold the law and yet they cross every line and they abuse the system,” the governor said. “They don’t honor the system. They don’t honor the rule of law and justice. I understand and respect the fear and distrust the African American community feels that calls them to come out and demonstrate and protest. I respect that, understand it and identify with it.”
He said he activated the Arkansas National Guard on Saturday night, asking them to stay positioned on Camp Robinson.
“I wanted to make sure what was happening around the country didn’t happen here,” Hutchinson said.
After violence erupted Saturday in Little Rock, the governor said he decided to have the Arkansas National Guard on hand to back up the Arkansas State Police “to support the rule of law and the protection of property.”
“I want to make sure we support peaceful protest and to ensure their first amendment right is protected. I want to make sure we, through our law enforcement efforts, protect them,” he said. “But let’s not let violence and destruction of property undermine the message of the peaceful protestors that is so important.”
Late Monday, the governor approved a request by Conway officials to implement a citywide curfew of 10 p.m. The order is effective immediately. Visit thecabin.net to view the order in full.