Central Arkansas Judge Says Unfair Police Practices Led To Current Unrest

Jul 11, 2016

Pulaski County Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen
Credit PBS

Amid the unrest over police-related shootings around the country and the attack on officers in Dallas, a central Arkansas judge is weighing in.

Pulaski County Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen says he has long seen the results of the nation’s criminal justice system, and spoke with KUAR’s Michael Hibblen.  You can hear the interview above.

MICHAEL HIBBLEN: Given everything that you've been seeing in the news and coming out, what are your thoughts at this point?

JUDGE WENDELL GRIFFEN: I think that the tragedies that we are seeing, and we have to admit that they're tragedies, must be understood as a result of how our criminal justice system is functioning poorly. And I think that we must also admit that our criminal justice system and the process by which police interact with communities of color has been designed and funded and constructed and staffed and regulated to function as poorly as it does. Our system is functioning this poorly on purpose. Not that this justifies by any means the tragedies that we've seen. But the tragedies that we've seen are what one finds when a system has been designed as poorly as it is.

HIBBLEN: Is Arkansas any better than the rest of the nation?

GRIFFEN: No. The problems that we've seen over the last several days are systemic. Racial profiling, stop-and-frisk behavior, police stopping people without reasonable suspicion, police using minor traffic violations as the basis for stopping people and questioning them and then police engaging in pretextural stops have been complained about for the last 40 years. And (former U.S. Supreme Court) Justice Thurgood Marshall Marshall warned that this kind of conduct would result in worsening relationships between police and communities of color. His warnings were ignored. And now we are at this situations. We basically have seen our chickens come home to roost and it's tragic. We've seen these tragedies, the tragedies of the deaths of police officers and the ones of others are tragedies. The killings of the people of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge and Philando Castile in Minnesota and Delrawn Small, who was killed by an off-duty officer in Brooklyn, New York are tragic. But we were warned and systemically police departments and the people that oversee them, the cities and the states allow this kind of conduct to happen and this is the result we get.

HIBBLEN: Little Rock's current police chief, Kenton Buckner, when he came in said he was going to make some changes to the department, instituted a number of things, has Little Rock's department gotten any better?

GRIFFEN: Not noticeably. The practices in terms of warrantless stops, stops without reasonable suspicion, stop-and-frisk, minor traffic violations used as the basis to stop people continues. And those are the kinds of interactions... for instance, Philando Castile had been stopped 60 times for minor traffic violations. When these kind of things happen as they do now in Little Rock, this is the kind of stuff that gives police agencies a bad reputation in communities of color. And it hasn't improved substantially under Chief Buckner's watch. The police departments cannot expect communities that are affected by that in disproportionate ways to trust the officer on the street. It isn't enough to say this is just a few bad apples, it's the department that keeps the few bad apples in the barrel. If I'm in the apple selling business and I keep bad apples in my barrel, I can't complain about people keeping complaining about my business. I know I've got bad apples in my barrel, unless I want to have people complain about my business, I've got to make my business to get the bad apples out."

HIBBLEN: Pulaski County Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen, thank you for sharing your thoughts with us.

GRIFFEN: Good talking with you, thank you Michael.