It’s a strange feeling, sitting in jail in Little Rock, Arkansas, wearing a suit and tie.
In early March 2021, I found myself in that exact situation. I was testifying to the Arkansas House Public Health, Welfare, and Labor Committee.
My testimony went 20 seconds over the 2-minute time limit. (That 2 minute time limit was imposed only on speakers who opposed the bill under discussion; supporters of the bill were allotted over 40 minutes to “freely discuss” their position).
As Representative Jack Ladyman told me “Your time is up, sir,” I remember the feeling of the handcuffs clamping on to my wrists.
I remember the police officer’s hands on my shoulders, steering me out of the committee room.
And I remember as the Arkansas Capitol police ran their hands up the insides of my legs, grabbing my crotch as they searched me (for a penis?) before taking me to jail.
Let’s Try an Exercise….
I want to ask you to close your eyes.
Think of the thing that is most important to you in your life today. Maybe it’s your kid. Maybe it’s your land or your livelihood. Maybe its your health or your healthcare.
Now, I want you to imagine an Arkansas legislator proposing a bill to make that thing – or person – illegal.
Maybe it’s a bill that allows the State to sterilize your child involuntary because they have a disability. (that’s actually still a law in Arkansas)
Maybe it’s a bill that says your kid can’t go to a public school because of their skin color (that was actually a law in Arkansas).
Or maybe it’s a bill that confiscates your land for a highway, or government project (that happens every 2 years in Arkansas).
Whatever the bill, try to feel what it is like to have your family, friends, community, health, faith, property or livelihood threatened by a law.
Now, imagine yourself deciding to go to your legislator to talk about that bill.
What reaction do you expect? A dialogue? To be listened to? To say your piece and leave?
Imagine that the chair of the committee – whether its Jack Ladyman or Breanne Davis or Bart Hester – ordering you to be taken to jail for expressing an opinion they did not like.
Try to imagine the handcuffs closing on your wrists in punishment for daring to reach out to have a dialogue with your elected representatives.
I served 11 years in the US Army as a Captain in the Field Artillery. I never imagined that scenario would ever happen – could ever happen – in any U.S. state.
Yet it did happen.
I am still trying to process and understand what happened and why, and now, even a month later, I am still in shock.
Here’s what I know, though.
Arkansas is broken.
Any state that arrests a citizen for speaking to his government is a state that is one slip on a banana peel away from a society or culture that seeks to kill or exterminate a class of people.
Any state that is so scared of its citizens because of who they are or what they have to say is a state driven by fear and hate.
Weird thing about hate. It never stops on its own.
Hate never says: “You know, I’m done hating. I think I’m going to sit back and enjoy the hatred that I’ve created.”
Hatred only stops when it is told to stop by something bigger and stronger than it.
And its that realization that led to the one lesson I’ve learned – so far – from my experience of being arrested for telling my legislator how their law would affect me and my family.
For centuries, Arkansas hated Black people. We enslaved them, barred them from voting, massacred them, lynched them, economically isolated them, barred them from schools, and more.
For centuries, Arkansas has hated people with disabilities. We passed laws allowing the government to sterilize them against their will. We refused to pass laws protecting them from discrimination, or providing funding to support their greater health care needs.
For centuries, Arkansas has hated people in the LGBTQI community. We have passed laws forbidding their marriage. We have passed laws forbidding them from adopting children. We have passed laws that took away their health care, or health insurance. We have banned them from sports – well, girls sports anyway.
Arkansas is no stranger to hate.
And it continues to be a problem: the 2021 General Assembly – led by segregationists like Breanne Davis and Missy Irvin, folks struggling with their own sexuality and identity like Stanley Rapert and Bart Hester, small and petty white supremacists like Trent Garner and Bob Ballinger, and Christian hypocrites like Dan Sullivan and Jack Ladyman – has made clear that the hate target du-jour is the LGBTQI community in Arkansas.
But what has me really afraid – what should scare the shit out of you and every other (small d) democrat – is this question:
You? Your child? Your spouse? Your friend or neighbor?
Remember, hate never stops on its own, and as you can see by looking at the actions of any one of the above legislators, hate is on a roll in Arkansas.
The only way to guarantee that YOU – or someone you love – is not next is to stand up, today, and tell your state house or senate representatives one word: STOP.
Stop proposing and passing and over-riding vetoes on hateful legislation.
Stop targeting Arkansans you don’t like or are afraid of.
Stop arresting Arkansans because they came to talk to you, peaceably, about how proposed legislation will impact their families and their lives.
Why did I not run for office against people like Trent Garner or Bob Ballinger, whose only agenda is Hate?
Why didn’t I show up to vote against people like Stanley Rapert and Bart Hester who are the personification of Hatred?
I have already made the choice not to let it happen again.
And then think, whether in the June 2022 primaries, or the November 2022 general election in Arkansas, you will let it happen again.
How about you?