Winter is the perfect time to explore the natural stone shelters where native Arkansans once lived
Quote of the Week:
"We are hurting. ... We are heartbroken. There are no words to describe the atrocity that occurred to our city. All I know is that this must stop — this divisiveness between our police and our citizens. ... Our city, our country, is better than that."
— Dallas Police Chief David Brown at a press conference the morning after five officers were killed and seven were wounded by a gunman, Micah Johnson, who said his aim was to kill white cops. Johnson, a 25-year-old black Army veteran who evidently acted alone, was killed by police using a robot equipped with a bomb.
The ambush in downtown Dallas unfolded at the end of a peaceful protest over the killings of two black men at the hands of police last week. The shooting deaths of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, La., and Philando Castile in Falcon Heights, Minn., both of which were caught on video, spurred demonstrations around the nation. In Little Rock, a diverse crowd of about 100 people gathered on the steps of the Capitol on Friday for a "Hands Up, Guns Down" rally organized by three Arkansas college students. In Memphis, a crowd of over 1,000 shut down the I-40 bridge across the Mississippi River for nearly four hours; there, unlike in some other cities, officers dispersed the crowd without injuries or arrests and the interim director of the Memphis Police Department met with several of the protestors.
Bogarting the ballot
Medical marijuana will be back before Arkansas voters this November. The secretary of state confirmed that a group collected enough valid signatures — over 77,000 — to place the Arkansas Medical Cannabis Act on the ballot. A similar initiative failed by only 2 percent in 2012, and polling indicates that public support for the issue has grown in the years since. However, there's a wrinkle. Signatures supporting a rival pro-pot measure, this one a proposed constitutional amendment, were also submitted last week. It seems likely to qualify for the November ballot as well. Squabbling could undermine both efforts: Supporters of the constitutional amendment say the AMCA's provision allowing some patients to cultivate their own plants could sink the proposal, while supporters of the AMCA say the amendment would effectively create monopolies for a few well-heeled growers. David Couch, the lawyer championing the constitutional amendment, has said he's considering a lawsuit challenging the AMCA.
Another year, another test
The state released the results of its new standardized test, the ACT Aspire, which was administered to Arkansas students in the spring. How'd the kids do? Hard to say, considering schools last year took an entirely different test (the PARCC) and yet another one the year before that (the Arkansas Benchmark). The Aspire scores indicate improvement is needed — statewide, 68 percent of students met a readiness benchmark in English and 43 percent in math, with even lower percentages in reading, science and writing — but as long as the state keeps switching the playing field, it's impossible to gauge whether or not progress is being made.
From chaplain to convict
A prosecutor announced that Kenneth Dewitt, a former chaplain at the McPherson women's prison in Newport, has pleaded guilty to three counts of third degree sexual assault. Dewitt, 67, was fired in 2014 for having had a sexual relationship with a parolee; a State Police investigation then revealed he'd also had sex with at least three inmates as well. He'll receive a 10-year sentence per count — but the sentences will be served concurrently and with five years suspended on each, meaning Dewitt will serve a maximum of five years behind bars and likely even less.
Rutledge joins bathroom lawsuit
Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge has joined nine other states in another reprehensible lawsuit against the federal government. This time, it's over the guidance recently issued by the Obama administration that tells public schools they should allow transgender students to use the bathroom matching their gender identity. According to Rutledge, Arkansas and other states are being forced "to adopt a radical social policy that raises serious safety concerns for school-age children." The states, she said, are the real victims of bullying, at the hands of an overweening federal government. We'd like to see her explain that conclusion to a group of transgender high school students.