Mayor, police chief address potential protests

Saturday, June 6, 2020

At his Wednesday press conference, Blytheville Mayor James Sanders addressed the possibility of a protest being held this weekend over the death of George Floyd.

Sanders served as a law enforcement officer for more than 40 years before being elected Blytheville’s first black mayor in 2010. He said that he has never seen “such a display of disregard for basic human rights”.

Sanders said, “The actions of the officers were reckless and doesn’t even reflect the training that officers go through when they are trained. But this was very reckless.”

Sanders added, “racism is a human issue,” and that he stands “against any injustice and maltreatment at the hands of racism.” The mayor said he stands for the “protection of basic human rights.”

Sanders stated it is up to the entire community to promote “brotherhood”, “respect” and “ to use our voices as our power to invoke change.” He stated he can’t do it alone and that this needs to be a community wide effort to beat the “ill” of racism.

He thanked the protesters for keeping their protests peaceful in the city thus far, and asked for that to continue this weekend.

“We do not welcome violence in any manner,” said Sanders.

Blytheville Police Chief Ross Thompson added that the department agrees that the Minneapolis police officers were wrong in the handling of Floyd’s detention.

“Concerning the recent death of George Floyd, we all agree that how the police officers of Minnesota handled his detention was wrong. I think it’s important that as law enforcement professionals that we speak up and say that what we’ve seen in that video was wrong and how they handled his dentition was wrong. Why they had handled his dentition so horribly wrong has yet to be determined,” explained Thompson.

“While law enforcement officers are the solution to bringing the needed changes to our profession we cannot take sides. We must remember our oaths and we must remain neutral. We are the impartial line that allows everyone to exercise their right of free speech. We can’t do our job when we take sides.”

According to Thompson, all local demonstrations have remained peaceful and if a group wants to hold a demonstration they need to contact the Blytheville Police Department at 762-4441 and officers will help plan, block streets and routes to keep everybody safe.

Thompson also asked citizens if they hear of plans to cause harm or to unlawfully disrupt the city to contact the department or Blytheville Crime Stoppers.

Sanders added that if planning a protest, groups should remember that the COVID-19 pandemic is still ongoing and to wear mask and social distance.

Meanwhile, also, in attendance Wednesday were representatives of Nucor — vice president/general manager of Nucor-Yamato Steel Thad Solomon, Nucor Steel Arkansas vice president and general manager Jay Henderson and Controller at Nucor Arkansas Dave Reinhart. Also in attendance was executive director of Mississippi County EOC Priscilla Johnson who helped facilitate funding to allow Blytheville residents to continue to have water and sewer services through the city during COVID-19.

Johnson noted the CARES Act will allow for low to moderate income individuals to receive bill assistant by going through EOC.

Sanders said that the working class people are going through the same problem. He stated the working class citizens were able to pay their bills but at the same time they have to stretch their checks to pay for other circumstances that have come up during this pandemic.

“We wanted to see if there was someway, somehow that we might be able to help that working class people who have been paying their bills and doing their due diligence in this and through prayer and cycle as we contacted our other cooperate partner, which is the Nucor Steel family,” said Sanders.

Johnson thanked Sanders for bringing all three organizations together to help the citizens of Blytheville. She stated due to the collaboration that only the residents of Blytheville will receive the help and those with the income level of 135-200 percent of the federal poverty guidelines.

According to Johnson, the program will begin June 22 and she is hopeful that these programs will help citizens during the pandemic.

Johnson added that applications for this assistance could be picked up at AAMOD Building at 801 Elm St. or for further assistance call (870) 763- 0882 or the EOC’s central office at (870) 776-1054.

Another assistance program, the low income home energy assistance program, will have funds available for all residents of Mississippi County and for people at 125 percent federal government guidelines.

“I’d like to say thank you to Nucor Arkansas and Nucor-Yamato Steel for the charitable donation of $25,000 and also to Mayor Sanders for bringing us to the table so that we could provide relief for families during this COVID-19,” said Johnson.

Henderson stated the family of Nucor feels “honored” to be able to help the citizens of Blytheville.

Solomon offered thanks to Mayor Sanders and Johnson.