Posted by: inforodeo | August 13, 2008


Arkansas Town Under 24-Hour Police-Enforced Curfew

— Officers armed with military rifles, some with laser sights, have been stopping and questioning passers-by in a neighborhood plagued by violence that’s been under a 24-hour curfew for a week.

Chief Fred Fielder says only those acting nervous or lacking good reasons for being out get extra attention.

On Tuesday, the Helena-West Helena City Council voted 9-0 to allow police to expand that program into any area of the city, despite a warning from a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas that the police stops were unconstitutional.

Police Chief Fred Fielder said the patrols have netted 32 arrests since they began last week in a 10-block neighborhood in this small town on the banks of the Mississippi River long troubled by poverty.

The council said those living in the city want the random shootings and drug-fueled violence to stop, no matter the cost.

“Now if somebody wants to sue us, they have an option to sue, but I’m fairly certain that a judge will see it the way the way the citizens see it here,” Mayor James Valley said. “The citizens deserve peace, that some infringement on constitutional rights is OK and we have not violated anything as far as the Constitution.”

The area under curfew, in what used to be a West Helena neighborhood, sits among abandoned homes and occupied residences in disrepair.

White signs on large blue barrels warn those passing by that the area remains under curfew by order of the mayor. The order was scheduled to end at 3 p.m. Tuesday, but Valley said the City Council’s vote would allow police to have the same powers across Helena-West Helena.

Among the curfew operation’s arrests, 10 came from felony charges, including the arrest of two people carrying both drugs and weapons, Fielder said. The police chief said the officers in the field carry military-style M-16 or M-4 rifles, some equipped with laser sights. Other officers carry short-barrel shotguns.

Many dealing crack cocaine and marijuana in the city carry pistols and AK-47 assault rifles, he said.

“We’ve had people call us, expressing concern for their children,” Fielder said. “They had to sleep on the floor because of stray bullets.”

Fielder said officers had not arrested anyone for violating the curfew, only questioned people about why they were outside. Those without good answers or acting nervously get additional attention, Fielder said.

However, such stops likely violate residents’ constitutional rights to freely assemble and protections against unreasonable police searches, said Holly Dickson, a lawyer for the ACLU of Arkansas who addressed the council at its packed Tuesday meeting. Because of that, Dickson said any convictions coming from the arrests likely would be overturned.

“The residents of these high-crime areas are already victims,” she said. “They’re victims of what are happening in the neighborhoods; they’re victims of fear. But for them to be subject to unlawful stops and questioning … that is not going to ultimately going to help this situation.”

The council rejected Dickson’s claims, at one point asking the Little Rock-based attorney if she’d live in a neighborhood they described as under siege by wild gunfire and gangs.

“As far as I’m concerned, at 3 o’clock in the morning, nobody has any business being on the street, except the law,” Councilman Eugene “Red” Johnson said. “Anyone out at 3 o’clock shouldn’t be out on the street, unless you’re going to the hospital.”

The curfew is the second under the mayor’s watch since the rival cities of Helena and West Helena merged in 2006. That year, Valley set a nightly citywide curfew after a rash of burglaries and other thefts.

Police in Hartford, Connecticut, began enforcing a nightly curfew for youths after recent violence, including a weekend shooting that killed a man and wounded six young people.

Helena-West Helena, with 15,000 residents at the edge of Arkansas‘ eastern rice fields and farmland, is in one of the nation’s poorest regions, trailing even parts of Appalachia in its standard of living.

In the curfew area, those inside the homes in the watch area peered out of door cracks Tuesday as police cruisers passed. They closed the doors afterward.

This will sound a little insensitive, but SO WHAT?
I’ve lived in an area with an enforced curfew, where if a person (including an elderly woman) was breaking curfew, the police shot us with tear gas.  It sucks … but for the greater benefit of the rest of society, it is necessary. 
You have to look past the conspiracy issue … the government has absolutely nothing to gain in paying legions of law enforcement for extra shifts, spending money on extra gear, etc.  No sinister governor or mayor or president is being showered in cash and prestige for ordering such an action. 
Curfews serve two purposes: the first, most obvious, and strongest purpose is to filter out criminals.  Yes, some criminals have the self-restraint to stay put until its over, but most do not.  A drug addict isn’t going to last a few days without visiting (or a visit from ) his dealer.  People naturally opposed to law enforcement are not going to abide by the curfew.  Regardless of how you want to look at it, the truth is, a greater ratio of ‘bad guys’ are out and about when there is a curfew in effect. 
The second purpose is to re-assert authority.  This may seem like a creepy nod to dictatorships or something, but when people lose respect for police authority, they begin to commit more crime. 

Socially, this last point is incredibly obvious. 

For a long time, a taboo social issue has been whether or not ‘blacks’ are more likely to be criminals.  The accusation flies from one camp that black youth are ‘targeted in racial profiling’, and from the other ‘they’re acting like criminals and committing more crime’ …
but the reality of this important issue is that it is NOT race that is the issue … nor is it economic status …
because when you look at it, there are blacks who don’t commit crimes, whites who do, rich who do, poor who don’t, etc …
as ridiculous as it sounds, you have a better chance profiling potential criminals by the music they listen to or how they do in school or other institutions in regard to their interactions with ‘authority’ than you do profiling race or econolic status. 

this all boils down to culture and upbringing … those who are taught to disrespect authority … those children who are misinformed by paranoid parents, conspiracy-theorist friends … those who are raised to believe that ‘the police are bad and they think you’re bad because you’re poor’ or ‘because of the color of your skin’ or ‘because your parents are illegal aliens’ or ‘because you listen to motorhead’ or whatever … those children grow up to be criminals, because they have a skewed idea of ‘right and wrong’, of civil obligation, of authority … if they think the police are out to get them, the friendly police officer suddenly looks like a bad guy … they shoot back glancves of ‘why are you looking at me?!’, and he sees it as ‘suspicious activity’, and it escalates … maybe not right then, at that place, but somewhere, eventually, a crime will be committed … maybe by accident, but then by ‘resisting arrest’ … maybe on purpose to try to ‘get away with it’, maybe as an outright attempt to ‘show who is really in charge’. 

so yeah … it isn’t about race, poverty, nationality, religion, gender, sex, etc …
it really is about idiotic parents poisoning the minds of youth. 

If you think about it … this is why those police baseball teams or after school groups that let kids hang out with officers actually do some good in the communities … they let kids see that cops are just like them … not the empty and cold robots and monsters they’ve been made out to be. 

One prominent law enforcement something-or-other said once that the moment police quit having walking beats and stepped behind the wheel of a patrol car, crime went up.  I think this is true … because in places where there is limited interaction with the police, its easier for the lies and rumours to spread.  (as it is with any person of occupation, from mortuary assistant to president of the United States). 

I guess i should say, however, it’s got to be scary to be under 24 hour curfew for so long.  I certainly hope this accomplishes what they want it to accomplish.


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