John Walker, a member of the Arkansas House of Representatives, was arrested last week for attempting to film Little Rock police officers during a traffic stop of an African American man.
Walker, who is also a civil rights attorney, observed the traffic stop from across the street and began taking pictures on his cell phone. After the driver noticed Walker aiming his phone's camera towards the arrest, Walker told him he was "making sure they don't kill you." Two of the police officers then crossed the street and engaged him in conversation. Although at first cordial, the conversation soon got heated when Walker explained why he was there.
"Every time multiple [officers] arrest a black man, now, if I'm around, I'm going to take pictures," Walker tells the officers in dash cam footage of the incident. "There have been too many killings."
One officer, seemingly recognizing Walker, accused him of being a "race baiter."
The officer's apparent recognition of Walker is no surprise: the 79-year-old was crucial in helping pass a 2015 law that allows Arkansas residents to film police without their consent. As noted by Mic, Arkansas, a state where more than 15 percent of the population is black, has a history of disproportionately stopping people of color. In fact, Walker was arrested for a nearly identical crime in 2005 when he was filming a traffic stop. Walker successfully sued the city of Pine Bluff, where he was arrested, for violating his constitutional rights.
In this incident, the two men inside the vehicle — one sitting in a wheelchair — were accompanied by a woman. They were operating a car without a license plate and had minor warrants for their arrest. According to Walker's colleague Omavi Shukur, who showed up on the scene fearing for his boss' safety, the incident is a perfect example of the injustices of the judicial system.
"The shoeless man and disabled man were arrested for being black poor people that fell into the debt trap of the endless fines and fees that riddle the local traffic and petty crime judicial system," he wrote in a Facebook post. "My boss and I were arrested for being black, privileged and giving a damn about these men and their sister; for not being pacified in our second-class citizenship."
During the exchange, one of the officers involved, Jason Roberts, described Walker as "a thorn in the side of the police department."
Once the officers returned to the scene of the arrest, Walker followed them across the street, phone at the ready. That's when the officers arrested him and charged him with interfering with government operations, a misdemeanor. They described him as approaching the scene in an "antagonistic and provocative manner," though the footage of the incident suggests Walker did little more than hold up his phone in silence. (Unfortunately, as Shukur revealed in an interview with Mic, he didn't actually know how to work the phone's camera and was unsuccessful in filming the incident.)
Charges against Walker have been thrown out by the court since the arrest. His colleague's charges, however, were "nolle prossed," or put on hold in a way that allows a prosecutor to revive them within a year. The police chief and mayor apologized to Walker in a letter, but he refused their apology in a letter asking them to do more to combat discrimination by officers.
"I cannot in good conscience accept your apology for the unlawful actions of the arresting officers yesterday by the Arkansas Arts Center. I also cannot accept the disparate treatment of my colleague Mr. Omavi Shukur," he wrote, as reported by The Arkansas Times. "I appreciate your effort to address the matter by providing further training to your officers. However, you must also recognize the issue of racial bias that is pervasive in some quarters of the police department."
He signed the letter, poignantly, "in solidarity with the accused."
A Plus has reached out to both Walker and Shukur for comment.