LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — After several shooting incidents involving children, community leaders are ramping up their request for a statewide crime task force to address gun violence in Arkansas.
Rev. Benny Johnson, the founder of the Arkansas Stop the Violence movement, first came up with the idea based on several similar initiatives across the country. He said Little Rock’s 30-plus homicide totals are alarming, but violence plagues the entire state in 2022.
Johnson said the task force should be made up of victims’ families, community activists, pastors and those directly impacted by gun violence. These factors along with a focus on modern policing could help, Johnson said.
“It’s dealing with conflict resolution, street patrol, disaster training, and other things,” Johnson said. “We want to present the governor with it so he can see the plan and see how it’s effective.”
A spokesperson for Gov. Asa Hutchinson said Thursday he, “has not committed,” to the creation of a statewide crime task force but referenced other steps he’s taken while in office. In 2020, he created a law enforcement task force that presented a list of recommendations to him related to crime and policing. In March, he signed bills that raised officers’ pay and provided money for body cameras and bullet-proof vests.
In a weekly address on April 8, Hutchinson specifically addressed violent crime.
“Government has no greater responsibility than to assure public safety, and at the state level, we are taking several measures to address this increase in crime and the current threat to public safety,” Hutchinson wrote before advocating for prison expansion and discussing an expansion of the Intensive Supervision Program in the Arkansas Dept. of Corrections.
Johnson said policing is only one element of the answer, and it will require more than just police.
“We cannot police ourselves out of this,” Johnson said. “We have to come together as a community.”
Dafony Boyd’s son Xavier Woods was murdered in 2013.
“We learn to cope with it, but it’s still there,” Boyd said. “The pain is still there, and it never goes away.”
Though gun violence changed Boyd’s life nearly a decade ago, she said this year seems worse.
“I know we can’t stop every tragedy, but we can start by trying to do something,” Boyd said. “Let’s just start somewhere. That way we can save the children. They are our future.”