• Paragould mayor, police chief announce Soviet-style approach to lowering crime
By Pat Shannan
When Paragould, Arkansas Mayor Mike Gaskill and Police Chief Todd Stovall announced to 40 residents at a town hall meeting their plans to use police in combat uniforms carrying AR-15 rifles to randomly check residents for identification, neither could imagine the amount of public outrage that would be hurled back at them.
In December, the two officials introduced the plan to patrol on foot and randomly ask anyone on the street for ID, due to a recent crime increase and “in the interest of public safety.”
“Police are going to be in SWAT gear with AR-15s around their neck,” Stovall told residents. “If you’re out walking, we’re going to stop you, ask why you’re out walking, check for your ID.”
Justifying his blatantly unconstitutional stand with the “fear of criminals,” Stovall said the city’s crime statistics are enough reason for the police to take this drastic step and demand ID from anyone seen on the street. “The fear is what’s given us the reason to do this.”
Stovall said that if anyone did not want to produce an ID, there would be no backing down by his officers. Then, with his own frightful threat, he added: “I’m hoping we don’t run across any of that. Will there be people who buck us? There may be. But we have a right to be doing what we’re doing. We have zero tolerance. We are prepared to throw your hind end in jail, OK? We’re not going to take a lot of flak.”
Gaskill, displaying total ignorance of constitutional law and civil rights, admitted that he had not consulted an attorney before endorsing the chief’s idea. He said innocent residents “may not be doing anything but walking their dog. But they’re going to have to prove it.”
Rita Sklar, executive director of American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Arkansas, said that certain aspects of Stovall’s plan show that he has “zero understanding of constitutional rights.”
It would not take the legal scheming of an ACLU to plan what a sophomore law student could come up with in one night. A couple of guys from out of town don jogging suits and, while carrying no ID, embark on a stroll through downtown Paragould around suppertime, maybe stop for a meal, stroll out for an after-dark walk and wait to be detained. Upon being unable to produce any proof of residence, they would then be taken to jail. Proper planning might also include being captured on a Friday night of a long weekend—thereby ensuring that they would be thoroughly damaged by two jail days served for no crime. Such a simple ploy, accompanied by representation by the right tort attorney, could slam the city and its overzealous mayor and police chief right into bankruptcy.
In the wake of the strong public outcry, the two officials eventually backed down and announced the cancellation of further town hall meetings “in the interest of public safety.” This time, however, the two officials appeared to be talking about concerns over their own safety.
Pat Shannan is an AFP contributing editor and the author of several best-selling videos and books.