Pay attention 

POWER ULTRA LOUNGE: The scene the day after the shooting. - BRIAN CHILSON
  • Brian Chilson
  • POWER ULTRA LOUNGE: The scene the day after the shooting.

"Everything changed at about 2:30 a.m. July 1," Arkansas Democrat-Gazette columnist Rex Nelson wrote recently about the Power Ultra Lounge mass shooting. "Everything. Nobody at Little Rock City Hall seems to understand that. The city sustained a body blow as a new month dawned."

If anyone reading Nelson's article thinks that a crisis began 2:30 a.m. July 1, 2017, then he hasn't been paying attention to Little Rock. That's not to diminish the severity and seriousness of the incident that occurred at Power Ultra Lounge. But our city has been experiencing challenging circumstances for a long time. It has been obvious to me and those who look like me, grew up where I grew up, or grew up in my economic environment that the city has sustained multiple body blows over recent years.

After the mass shooting, I recall a woman saying that she overheard someone say, "This was not supposed to happen [in] downtown [Little Rock]." In response to hearing this statement, she said, "Well ... where was it supposed to happen?"

I also heard another Democrat-Gazette columnist, John Brummett, say recently that the shooting is "a city tragedy because it happened downtown." Again, this sentiment, whether unintentional or not, implies that violent crimes are not a "city tragedy" when they happen on Baseline Road, Colonel Glenn Road or Asher Avenue. Unfortunately, these are not just words, but a sentiment that has guided how dollars are spent and policies are drafted. I understand that the Power Ultra Lounge mass shooting made national news, but if we needed a story in The Washington Post to make us care about all parts and all people of our city, then we need to do some major re-evaluating.

In another column, the Democrat-Gazette's Nelson wrote, "Little Rock has a major gang problem, just as was the case in the early 1990s. Most gang members are young black males." You do not have to dig too deep to extrapolate from that assertion that black guys are the problem in Little Rock. To be clear, I know Nelson, and I know that is not what he meant. Unfortunately, I also know that some people saw the column as a means to reinforce the notion that "we need to get these black males under control."

I disagree with painting with such a broad stroke because I'm not much different than those "problem gang members." I grew up without my father in my household. My mother passed away when I was 13. I have incarcerated family members and I have lost siblings to gun violence. I lived in four different households all over Little Rock and North Little Rock. Additionally, I know that my education was not much different than those so-called, stereotypical gang members: I attended nine different schools before graduating from John L. McClellan High School. Now, when I'm not at work at Wright, Lindsey and Jennings, I'm sure that to some people I look just like those problem gang members. I'm not different, but my opportunities were.

My story — from McClellan to a top-five-ranked liberal arts college to law school to partner at a prestigious law firm — should not be a novel exception of some young black dude "making it." Arkansas Commitment, a leadership development program for academically talented black students, provided an opportunity for me to be exposed to a world that was mostly unknown to me. I was able to intern at local businesses and build relationships that are lasting to this day. These experiences were invaluable and have been critical in my professional development. Arkansas Commitment is an amazing program, but our community needs more programs like it to provide opportunities and exposure to an even greater number of people who otherwise would not have it.

I'm sure my life would be different if those opportunities were not afforded to me. People invested time and resources into programs and events that allowed me to become who I am today. We need more of that.

We need to invest in opportunities for all people in Little Rock, especially the perceived gang members or those from neighborhoods that have not received adequate capital investment. We need to be painstakingly deliberate about investing in mission-driven organizations to provide positive opportunities for middle and high school students, especially during the summer months, who do not have resources to take summer vacations or attend costly summer camps. We need to engage in intracity tourism to ensure that all citizens of Little Rock are invested in neighborhoods other than the neighborhoods where they live. We need to demand capital investment in the South End, on Asher Avenue and Geyer Springs Road; I'm sure investors can make a positive return on investment for projects in those neighborhoods. Problems such as the lack of civic, educational and social opportunities for people who live south of Interstate 630, in addition to the belief that Little Rock is becoming increasingly divided, have been at crisis stage long before July 1.

Antwan Phillips is a lawyer with the Wright Lindsey Jennings firm.


Sign up for the Daily Update email


Comments (8)

Showing 1-8 of 8

Add a comment

Subscribe to this thread:
Showing 1-8 of 8

Add a comment

More by Antwan Phillips

  • No different

    We were leaving Southwest Little Rock heading north on Interstate 30. There were four of us — four black male teenagers. I was in the backseat. There was a BB gun that resembled a handgun inside the car.
    • Apr 12, 2018
  • Paternalism

    I cannot count the number of times that more established people have told me how I should think, how I should dress, how I should get my hair cut and when it is my time to place my name in the proverbial election hat.
    • Dec 21, 2017
  • Good anger

    Recently, I attended a training session with the Little Rock Organizing Committee, an alliance of churches, schools, unions and other organizations concerned with social justice. The three-day workshop was essentially a crash course in community organizing. There were multiple lessons, but the biggest benefit to me was learning that anger is not always bad.
    • Nov 30, 2017
  • More »

Readers also liked…

  • Schlafly's influence

    Phyllis Schlafly, mother, attorney and longtime antifeminist, died recently. What Schlafly promoted was not novel or new. Men had been saying that men and women were not equal for years. However, anti-feminism, anti-women language had much more power coming from a woman who professed to be looking out for the good of all women and families.
    • Sep 15, 2016
  • Seven

    The controversy over the Ten Commandments monument on the Capitol lawn just won't go away.
    • Feb 9, 2017
  • Another Jesus

    If you follow the logic of Jason Rapert and his supporters, God is very pleased so many have donated money to rebuild a giant stone slab with some rules on it. A few minutes on Rapert's Facebook page (if he hasn't blocked you yet) also shows his supporters believe that Jesus wants us to lock up more people in prison, close our borders to those in need and let poor Americans fend for themselves for food and health care.
    • Jul 20, 2017

Latest in Guest Writer

  • No different

    We were leaving Southwest Little Rock heading north on Interstate 30. There were four of us — four black male teenagers. I was in the backseat. There was a BB gun that resembled a handgun inside the car.
    • Apr 12, 2018
  • Keeping a millionaire

    How do you get more millionaires to live in your state? You tax them fairly and equitably. And you use that money to pay for investments that improve quality of life, like education and infrastructure that produce successful businesses. The wealthiest people might not be excited about their tax rates, but research shows that nearly none of them will be bothered enough to leave.
    • Apr 5, 2018
  • Safe schools

    A truth all teachers know: If you want to see the secrets and shortcomings of any community, just take a peek inside its classrooms. You'll find poverty, lack of education, substance abuse, unstable families and socioeconomic segregation. Children have no choice but to bear the brunt of social ills, making schools the easiest places to spot and measure our failings.
    • Mar 8, 2018
  • More »

Most Recent Comments

  • Re: Week That Was

    • "What is Ernie going to say in 2020 when Trump wins his second term?" The…

    • on April 20, 2018
  • Re: Week That Was

    • One wonders how much of that wonderful weed Ernie has been smoking to think that…

    • on April 20, 2018
  • Re: Redefining candidate quality

    • "It's the grassroots fire that ignited in the days and weeks after President Trump's election…

    • on April 20, 2018

© 2018 Arkansas Times | 201 East Markham, Suite 200, Little Rock, AR 72201
Powered by Foundation