As African American communities continue to confront the reality of strained relations with police departments around the nation, a similar movement is taking place in Little Rock. On Thursday from 6 to 9 p.m., the Mosaic Templars Cultural Center will host a community forum and film screening called "Law, Order and Community."
The goal is to provide for a “cleansing and productive dialogue” on relations between communities and law enforcement.
Forum participants include Little Rock Police Chief Kenton Buckner, State Senator David Sanders, social activists Phyllis Brown and Mondale Robinson and 6th Judicial Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen. You can find more information on the forum at the Mosaic Templars website and the Facebook event page.
KUAR's Chris Hickey recently caught up with Judge Griffen to discuss the local movement.
GRIFFEN: I think that Little Rock and Central Arkansas is like the nation and really the world in focusing the attention on the issues of racial profiling and police brutality. And the whole Black Lives Matter movement. I mean, if you look at worldwide media, the Black Lives matter message is resonating... in Japan, in Europe, in Latin America, in Canada, in the United States and in Arkansas. So I see the same thing happening here. And it's gratifying for a couple of reasons. Number one: racial profiling and police brutality is an issue that we ought to be focused on. And number two: we have these questions that we need to face in Central Arkansas and I think our attention to them is well deserved.
HICKEY: What's different about Central Arkansas compared to those other communities where those movements are also taking place?
GRIFFEN: Well, every movement is local. And the Central Arkansas movement is different in this sense: number one, it's perhaps not as well reported or known. It isn't as large. But I've been pleased to see for instance there was a “die-in” at UAMS; there was a “die-in” at Park Plaza [Mall]. This was before the Christmas holidays came on. And so it's going to be interesting to see how this movement continues as the New Year progresses. But I'm confident that that progress will continue.
HICKEY: You've written a lot of essays recently expounding on this topic. Some people would say that you should be more impartial and not really take a stand because it might affect your role as an arbiter of the law...
GRIFFEN: Racial profiling and police brutality are wrong. They violate our fundamental notions of equal justice under law. People should not be deemed more suspicious merely based on their racial identity. And no one should be brutalized by people who are sworn to protect and defend life. And so, for me as a judge, it's easy for me to acknowledge that. I would be worried if a judge wouldn't condemn racial profiling. I am not concerned about people criticizing me for speaking out. I am concerned about the idea that we want judges who aren't going to say that racial profiling is wrong, we want judges who aren't going to say that police brutality is wrong? I think not.
HICKEY: So do you feel like your colleagues in the Circuit Court should be more vocal?
GRIFFEN: Each person will speak or not speak based on their own views. I simply believe that my perspective on this is directly in line with the highest and truest notions of justice as enshrined in our Constitution, and in the minds of most sensible people. Most people understand that no matter who a judge is, he or she is going to decide cases and controversies based on the facts specifically before them. But, most people expect judges to have a sense of justice that is the same no matter what the facts are. Racial profiling is wrong no matter what the facts are. Police brutality is wrong no matter what the facts are. And if police are brutalizing people, we should not have to wait until we see a case of police brutality to say that brutality is wrong. Just as shouldn't have to wait until we see a murder until we say murder is wrong.