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Arkansas Town Enacts Martial Law

srtBy Natasha Lennard

UPDATE: According to local news reports, the police department canceled two subsequent town hall meetings to discuss the heavy handed policing plan. Following outrage from Paragould residents, the police cited “public safety concerns” to cancel the meetings. Meanwhile, Paragould’s mayor has reportedly dialed back his rhetoric around the amped up policing proposal and, according to the Arkansas Times, the mayor said patrolling police would not “constantly” be carrying assault rifles. Although announced to begin in January, no SWAT patrols have begun in Paragould yet.

Original: Following a rise in violent crime in Paragould, an Arkansas town of around 26,000 residents, the mayor and police chief announced that starting this month police in SWAT gear carrying AR-15s would patrol the streets.

“If you’re out walking, we’re going to stop you, ask why you’re out walking, and check for your ID,” police chief Todd Stovall told a December town hall meeting. As if to render the implementation of a visible police state more palatable, Stovall assured residents that police stops would not be based on any profiling: “We’re going to do it to everybody,” he said.

Stovall also told residents he had not consulted an attorney before instituting the plan. HuffPo’s Radley Balko noted that Paragould is not the first town to bring in such measures:

Using SWAT teams for routine patrols isn’t uncommon. Fresno did this for several years in the late 1990s and early 2000s. The city sent its Violent Crimes Suppression Unit into poorer neighborhoods and stopped, confronted, questioned, and searched nearly everyone they encountered. “It’s a war,” one SWAT officer told Christian Parenti in a a report for The Nation (not available online). Another said, “If you’re 21, male, living in one of these neighborhoods, and you’re not in our computer, then there’s something definitely wrong.”

Balko picked up on interesting detail in Stovall’s comments. The police chief said, “This fear is what’s given us the reason to do this. Once I have stats and people saying they’re scared, we can do this.” As Balko pointed out, although there was an uptick in violent crime in Paragould, “fear” of crime was used as the pretext to implement martial law — based on such troubling reasoning, there is never not fear in U.S. towns today and so there is never not a pretext to introduce patrolling SWAT teams.

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