Black Reformist Police Chief Targeted For Removal By White Officers

Arkansas Police Chief Keith Humphrey
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New York, NY –– December 18, 2021 –– The Intercept has published an investigative deep-dive into the Little Rock, Arkansas, police department (LRPD) that reveals an effort by the police union and other old guard officials to unseat Chief Keith Humphrey.

Among a growing cohort of Black police chiefs, Humphrey has been gunning for substantial LRPD reforms since his appointment in 2019 by Mayor Frank Scott, the city’s first Black elected chief executive.

Reported by Radley Balko, author of the best-selling book "Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America's Police Forces," the feature also details a pattern of historic discrimination against Black officers and the influence of the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP). This is an epic tale about a police department riven by race and the strength of the forces arrayed against change — a tour de force of reporting that speaks to policing issues across the country.

Humphrey has been subject to numerous lawsuits and department complaints, which allege, among other things, a hostile work environment, unjust retaliation, and sexual harrassment.

Yet interviews with more than 20 current and retired officers and civilian employees, plus a review of hundreds of pages of emails, public records, and text messages, reveal that many of these accusations do not stand up to factual or legal scrutiny. Instead, Balko’s reporting uncovers a different narrative: one of an effort, driven in part by FOP members, to oust Humphrey.

More broadly, Balko’s interviews with Black officers paint a picture of a deeply divided police department – one that officers say passes over them for career-building opportunities and promotions if they speak out against racism, brutality, corruption, or profiling of Little Rock’s Black residents.

“It isn’t just Chief Humphrey. It’s Black police leaders all over the U.S.,” said Johnny Gilbert Jr., a Black lieutenant who retired in 2019 after 35 years at LRPD. “They struggle to be seen as legitimate by the establishment. Does that sort of disrespect trickle down and affect the morale of Black officers? You bet it does.”

The piece also highlights the tension between Little Rock’s two police unions: the FOP, which , some say, seeks to maintain the status quo, and the unofficial Little Rock Black Police Officers Association (LRBPOA). Many Black officers told Balko the LRBPOA is necessary because not only does the FOP fail to represent their interests, it also often works against them – yet only the FOP is authorized to collectively bargain with the city.

While Balko’s investigation is focused on Little Rock, its implications stretch beyond Arkansas’ borders. His reporting offers a crucial look at the pressures and challenges that many Black police leaders meet when attempting to change the system from within, and raises the question of whether or not, in the face of these obstacles, true radical reform is possible.

Here is an excerpt from The Intercept story:

On the morning of May 28, 2020, a Black sergeant with the Little Rock, Arkansas, Police Department woke up, turned on the news, and saw the George Floyd video for the first time. “It was just a punch to the gut,” she said. “Or two punches, I guess. You see a video like that, and as a Black woman, it crushes you. And then you see it as a police officer, and you just feel ashamed.”

After watching the video, the sergeant, who I’ll call “Wanda,” checked her cellphone. Overnight, she had received a series of text messages from her colleagues at LRPD. The first was from then-Assistant Chief Alice Fulk, sent just before midnight. “Angie, Debbie, shorty, Linda and Marilyn,” Fulk’s text read, “it’s my understanding that u all hve heard inappropriate sexual remarks made by the chief.”

Wanda was floored.

Fulk was referring to Keith Humphrey, who had become the city’s chief of police the prior year. “I had no idea what she was talking about,” Wanda said. “I never told anyone that Chief Humphrey had said anything inappropriate to me — because he hadn’t.”

As she read the replies, Wanda grew more confused.

One by one, the other women agreed they would come forward with allegations. “None of them had ever mentioned anything to me about him being inappropriate,” Wanda recalled. “It seemed odd to me. Like they were recruiting.”

Wanda and the other women in the text chain were all part of Fulk’s sizable social circle, many of whom worked with the LRPD. Nearly everyone else in the circle was white. “I dated a white officer who was part of that crowd for about five years,” Wanda said. Referring to Fulk’s broader social circle, she added, “So I guess they were comfortable with me. They’d say things like, ‘She doesn’t hang out with other Black people.’ Or, ‘She’s one of the Blacks that’s OK.’”

Wanda, who asked that her real name not be used to avoid harassment, didn’t respond to the text. Over the next few days, she said, Fulk’s friends and allies in the police department began to pressure her to come forward with her own allegations. One lieutenant, a close friend of Fulk’s, pressed especially hard.

“You need to get on this lawsuit train” — that was the lieutenant’s message, Wanda recalled. “She kept pointing out that since I’m Black, it was really important that I join them because it would look bad if it was just a bunch of white women accusing him. It didn’t matter that I had nothing to accuse him of.”

Read more on this story at The Intercept.

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