Civic and religious leaders from Little Rock spoke on racial inequality and conflict in the city at a forum Monday night at the University of Arkansas in Little Rock. The meeting was organized as a response to the recent shooting of teenager Michael Brown and subsequent civil unrest in Ferguson, Missouri.
Religious leaders at the event spoke to the crowd about their role in helping with reconciliation between the races. Assistant pastor of Second Presbyterian Church, Lindy Vogado, said primarily white congregations need to do more to raise consciousness about issues of race.
“One of the realities of white privilege in our society is most of my congregation members don’t have to consider racial injustice unless they choose to,” she said.
Some audience members challenged the speakers to address issues of institutionalized racism, while others spoke of recognizing common humanity and encouraging patience.
Little Rock Police Department Assistant Chief, Eric Higgins, said Little Rock should make economic opportunities for disadvantaged kids.
“We have to look at our economic opportunities. We tell our kids ‘you have to get educated, you have to finish school and get an education to have an opportunity.’ Well, our kids have to see an opportunity for something, an opportunity to get a job that can pay for the things you need day to day,” he told the crowd.
Audience members questioned Higgins on the department’s handling of the 2012 shooting of 15-year-old Bobby Moore by former police officer Josh Hastings. Higgins said he thinks its regrettable Hastings's case was dropped by prosecutors earlier this year but in general the department holds itself accountable.
“As far as investigating ourselves, that is something that we think about," he said.
"We have to ensure that we’re doing a proper investigation so we have the trust of the community. I would not be one to sit here and say no if the community wanted a review panel, how could I resist that?”
Little Rock City Manager Bruce Moore, also on the panel, responded to one audience member’s concern that at the time Hastings was hired, the police department was aware he had once attended a Ku Klux Klan meeting.
“I want you to understand and know that was vetted through the police chief’s office and the decision was made to hire Mr. Hastings,” he said.
He said Hasting's case shows the department is willing to scrutinize itself.
“This was an internal investigation by the little rock police department. That has not happened in decades in this city,” said Moore.
The forum was hosted by UALR’s Institute on Race and Ethnicity