LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (KTHV) -- Some Little Rock residents are calling for city leaders to resign in the wake of recent gang violence.
They shared their concerns and their anger with the mayor and the Board of Directors at its first meeting since 25 people were shot during a shootout in a nightclub, and a dozen drive-by shootings terrorized the city in a seven-day span.
“You guys slap a bandage on a bleeding wound,” Shanelle Smith told the board. “You all do just enough to have us to hush. And we’re tired.”
Smith was one of a half-dozen people who spoke during an open comment period in Wednesday night’s board meeting. They told the directors that the community has reached a boiling point because gang violence continues to worsen. They do not see city leaders trying to make a difference, and claim neighborhood programs are not getting results.
“We need these funds to get out there, we need people to get out there,” Antonio Davila said. “We need to actually stop the violence. Now, the only way we’re gonna stop it is by using new tactics.”
Davila distributed a packet to each board member with a plan for a youth development program that he claimed has succeeded at preventing teens from joining gangs in other cities.
“We have to get the message to them,” he stated. “We’ve gotta become involved, we gotta build our neighborhoods. The police department’s doing a great job. I think they are; a lot of people don’t. They’re not to blame for this crime; it’s the community that’s doing the crime, not the police, so you can’t blame police, or the chief, or anybody like that.”
Little Rock sponsors many youth intervention programs through its Department of Community Programs. Ken Richardson, a board member, said they are not as useful as they once were.
“And I think it was really effective when we didn’t have any political involvement,” he explained, “and I think the political involvement has created opportunities for misery merchants to come in and capitalize on this funding.”
A couple of people said the city’s response to gang violence has been so bad, Mayor Mark Stodola, City Manager Bruce Moore, Police Chief Kenton Buckner, and most of the board members need to resign. They claimed that the majority of Little Rock’s leaders do not care about what happens in the poor parts of town.
“These are our children, our family members that are being gunned down,” Smith exclaimed. “Somebody asked, ‘well, how did it happen downtown? It wasn’t supposed to happen downtown’ Where was it supposed to happen?!”
“I saw, via news the other day, they had extra patrols down—Little Rock policemen—for Pops on the River,” mentioned Rev. Benny Johnson, who runs Arkansas Stop the Violence. “Well, where is the extra patrols when the pops in the hood? I’m not talking about no fireworks. I’m talking about some choppers, the 9MM, the Glocks, Berettas, and some 40 (calibers)!”
Stodola defended himself and other city leaders, saying they do care about every part of the city, and that they are committed to defeating the gangs.
“We spend our resources in a variety of ways, trying to help people in all sorts of different ways,” he noted, “and this is clearly an important focus, as we all know and are dedicated to, and rededicated to.”
Smith said many people in the black community do not trust Stodola or the white members of the Board of Directors.
“When we speak,” she stated, “you all make faces, you laugh, you make sly remarks. Those things are being watched.”
“I want you to know,” Stodola responded, “that everyone up here, everyone up here, from their own different vantage points, care about the citizens of this city.”