Community leaders call for statewide crime task force; governor “not engaged” in training

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – After several shootings involving children, community leaders are stepping up their demand for the creation of a statewide crime task force to address gun violence in Arkansas.

Reverend 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 more than 30 homicides are alarming, but violence is rampant across the state in 2022.

Johnson said the task force should be made up of families of victims, community activists, pastors and people directly affected by gun violence. Those factors, along with a focus on modern policing, could help, Johnson said.

“It deals with conflict resolution, street patrols, disaster training and other things,” Johnson said. “We want to present it to the governor so he can see the plan and see how effective it is.”

A spokesman for Gov. Asa Hutchinson said Thursday he “has not committed” to creating a statewide crime task force, but referred to other measures he has taken during his tenure. In 2020, he created a law enforcement task force that presented him with a list of recommendations related to crime and policing. In March, he signed bills increasing officers’ pay and providing money for body cameras and bulletproof vests.

In a weekly address on April 8, Hutchinson deals specifically with violent crimes.

“The government has no greater responsibility than to ensure public safety, and at the state level we are taking several steps 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 Arkansas Department of Corrections’ intensive supervision program.

Johnson said the police are only part of the answer and will require more than the police.

“We can’t control ourselves,” Johnson said. “We need to come together as a community.”

Dafony Boyd’s son, Xavier Woods, was murdered in 2013.

“We’re learning to deal with it, but it’s still there,” Boyd said. “The pain is always there, and it never goes away.”

Although gun violence changed Boyd’s life nearly a decade ago, she said this year looks worse.

“I know we can’t stop all the tragedies, but we can start by trying to do something,” Boyd said. “Let’s start somewhere. In this way we can save the children. They are our future.

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