Arkansas Political Leaders React To Police Shootings, Urge People To Remain Calm

File photo of Gov. Asa Hutchinson speaking on Talk Business & Politics in October.
Credit Talk Business & Politics

In response to three nationally related episodes of gun violence and escalations between police officers and citizens, Gov. Asa Hutchinson said leaders must “calm the waters” in an effort to curtail overreactions to these violent and volatile situations.

“Most importantly, we need to make sure that we talk with reason and discipline as we discuss these matters. Leaders should not be encouraging and dramatizing the response beyond what it should be. The key thing here is our commitment to the rule of law,” he said.

In a Friday morning interview with Talk Business & Politics, Hutchinson made the comments in response to a sniper ambush of police officers in Dallas on Thursday night that came at the end of a peaceful protest over police shootings of civilians captured on video in Baton Rouge, Louisiana and Falcon Heights, Minn.

Twelve Dallas Police and transit officers were shot by snipers, with four Dallas police officers and one Dallas Area Rapid Transit officer killed. As of Friday morning, three suspects were known, and one was killed. According to Dallas Police Chief David Brown said the suspect who was killed had said he “wanted to kill white people.”

The deadly Dallas attacks occurred during protests against police-involved shootings of black men this week in Louisiana and Minnesota. Alton Sterling was shot by police in Baton Rouge. Philando Castile, a school nutrition supervisor who lives near Minneapolis, was shot and killed by a police officer. Castile, who was pulled over for a broken taillight, had informed the officer he had a weapon, and when reaching for his wallet, the officer shot and killed Castile.

Both incidents were captured on video, and the videos again sparked outrage about police violence against minorities. The Dallas shootings happened during a protest against the the police shootings of black men.

LAW ENFORCEMENT, CIVIL PROTESTS
While complimenting law enforcement and the difficult duties they perform, Hutchinson said those who use excessive force should be dismissed and more training will always be needed.

“What happened in each of these cities is tragic. Most recently what happened in Dallas just goes beyond the pale to think that law enforcement officers, with families, with loved ones, who support our community and do it – and really protecting a civil protest – are targeted and attacked. It really undermines everything we’re about in America,” he said.

“You almost have to deal with this in the same way you deal with a terrorist attack. You’ve got those targeting the foundation of western civilization – the rule of law. You’ve got to get a handle on that, you’ve got to support law enforcement and stand with the families that have been so devastated by this.”

Hutchinson said the Arkansas State Police have been training to prepare for incidents like those that occurred this week and previous high-profile controversial run-ins, such as the Ferguson, Missouri incident or Baltimore, Maryland.

“It’s about training and Col. (William) Bryant has done an extraordinary job of enhancing the training to be able to respond to the incidents of civil riot. That’s what we’ve seen in other states. We’ve got to have a capacity in this state to respond in a way that doesn’t lead to a Ferguson, but that leads to a reduction of the tension,” he said.

GUN LAW DEBATE
When asked if restricting or broadening gun laws would make a difference, Hutchinson said he didn’t think so.

“No, in the end this is about people respecting the law, respecting people, treating people the right way and not committing acts of violence. That is fundamentally the challenge we face,” Hutchinson said.

In 2017, many political observers expect the Arkansas General Assembly to consider legislation to clarify an open carry gun law. Opponents of looser gun access are expected to file bills restricting their availability.

“In terms of the gun debate, I think in Arkansas it’s going to come down on the side of citizens needing to be able to protect themselves in lawful ways, whether it’s concealed carry or other means. I think there will be a continued debate in it. I hope that common sense prevails and that we listen to each other in that debate,” Hutchinson said.

“I’m not an advocate of everyone in society carrying a weapon out in the open. That’s not the society I want my children and grandchildren to grow up in. I actually think that the Second Amendment and our Arkansas law yields to an open carry, but I don’t advocate for it. I don’t believe that’s what we want our culture to be about. And I don’t think most people want to open carry weapons. I think they want weapons for protection in an appropriate way and usually that’s going through the concealed weapons process.

Hutchinson’s full interview, which includes additional topics on business and politics, is set to air this Sunday on Talk Business & Politics, on KATV Ch. 7 at 9:30 a.m.

SENATORS RESPOND TO DALLAS TRAGEDY
Arkansas’ Senate delegation responded to the shootings of the police officers in Dallas.

U.S. Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., said, “The horrific news out of Dallas overnight is heartbreaking. There is absolutely no justification for the cowardly ambush on law enforcement that took place. We, as a nation, must come together in support of the brave and selfless men and women who put their lives on the line every day to protect our communities. The family members and loved ones of the victims of this attack remain in our thoughts and prayers.”

U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., added, “The assassination of police officers trying to protect innocent civilians is an evil, heinous act, which tears at our social fabric and revolts the conscience. Like all Arkansans, I pray for the families of these slain and injured officers, and that our communities and our nation unite behind all the valiant peace officers who devote their lives to keeping us safe.”

The governor’s interview that will air Sunday includes his expectations for his upcoming trade trip to Europe, the Cleveland national GOP convention, November ballot issues and state executions.