Pine Bluff community representatives meet to discuss racial justice and solutions for law enforcement

By Ray King

Members of the community came together with city and county elected officials and representatives of law enforcement for a forum on law enforcement and racial justice and seek solutions that will bring people together.

Pine Bluff Mayor Shirley Washington, Jefferson Count Judge Gerald Robinson, Police Chief Kelvin Sergeant, Sheriff Lafayette Woods Jr., Social Justice Activist Kamara Seals and police consultant Matthew Pate shared the stage at the Pine Bluff Convention Center for the first in what are expected to be several forums on the topic.

The forum follows weeks of civil unrest and protests after the Memorial Day death of George Floyd at the hands of police officers in Minnesota and efforts to defund police departments. There was one protest at the Pine Bluff Civic Center but that one was done with social distancing requirements and participants listened in their cars to the program which was broadcast on Oldies 101.3.

In the forum Thursday, Attorney Keidra Burrell set the tone early, quoting the late Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who said “injustice anywhere is injustice everywhere.”

Mayor Washington said it was a difficult time in the history of the nation and the state, particularly while dealing with COVID-19.

In his opening remarks, Sergeant said what has happened over the past few weeks with his chosen profession has started things changing “but it doesn’t mean we can’t get better.” Later, he discussed a number of policy changes that have or will be put into effect within the department and also said he would be talking to Woods about trying to incorporate those changes throughout the county.

Seals said Arkansas is one of only a few states that does not have a hate crime bill and said she and others are working on changing that. She also talked about Zero Eight, a list of things dealing with how police work is performed and said Pine Bluff is already doing some of those things.

“We’re making progress,” she said. “We do not want a George Floyd incident in Pine Bluff.”