‘NWA is our home’: Protesters stand for Black and transgender Arkansans

A few steps away from the World Peace Fountain outside the Fayetteville Town Center, demonstrators demanded peace and protection for Black and transgender Arkansans.

The Rally for Our Rights on April 18, led by The Ozarks Coalition and Bridge the Gap Northwest Arkansas, protested against the anti-transgender laws of the Arkansas legislature and the police killings of Daunte Wright and Adam Toledo.

Wright, a 20-year-old Black man, was shot by officer Kimberly Ann Potter on April 11 in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota during a traffic stop where he was detained due to an arrest warrant, according to The New York Times. Toledo, a 13-year-old Mexican American boy, was shot by a Chicago police officer on March 29 after tossing “what looks like a gun” and raising his hands in response to the officer’s command, according to the Chicago Sun Times.

“We need to make a statement to law enforcement because … they were supportive of the insurrection, they supported Donald Trump, and the hate, the bigotry and the racism that’s come from it and the groups here in Arkansas that sponsor it,” Quinn Foster, a member of The Ozarks Coalition, said.

With pride, transgender and BLM flags and signs stating “Inclusion,” “Black Lives Matter” and “No Justice, No Peace,” the group wanted to show support for marginalized Arkansans. Protestors cheered to honking cars and danced as music blared from a loudspeaker.

Dani, resident of Springdale, came to the protest to support their 12-year-old transgender son, Arrow. [The Threefold Advocate staff, in consultation with the newspaper advisor, has chosen not to include their last name for the safety of the minor.]

Dani commented on the direct impact of the Save Adolescents from Experimentation Act. The Act, which passed on April 6, makes Arkansas the first state “to pass a bill restricting access to gender-affirming health care for anyone under 18,” according to NPR. “It doesn’t matter to them if parents are giving permission. Right now, we’re looking at having to drive to Louisiana to get care or potentially moving to Colorado, if Louisiana gets kicked, too,” Dani said.

“I personally don’t think our lawmakers give much of a s*** about us,” Dani said. “I don’t think us protesting makes much of a difference to them, but the effects of people protesting consistently … affects other things like tourism … which might in the end cause them to make some changes.”

Another member of The Ozarks Coalition, Murphy Foster, brought a combination of a pride and BLM flag that she regularly flies outside her home. “I’ve gotten messages from families in Harrison telling me ‘Thank you.’ I drove by with my Black son today and he looked at that flag and said, ‘Mom, look, my life matters to someone,’” she said. “That’s what it’s about, even if it’s just that one kid or two kids … understanding that their lives matter to someone in town.”

The demonstration at Fayetteville Town Square follows months of protests led by Northwest Arkansas residents. In June 2020, authorities cleared the Bentonville square with tear gas following protests against the death of George Floyd, according to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

Following this altercation, protests were also held in the Fayetteville Square the following day. Thousands gathered with officers “standing in solidarity” with the community, Police Chief Mike Reynolds said in an interview with the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. The Ozarks Coalition and Bridge the Gap Northwest Arkansas have also hosted trans rights rallies at the Arkansas Capitol on March 31 and at the Bentonville square on April 7.

Some of the protestors, including Quinn Foster and Murphy Foster, came armed in case of appearances from opposition groups. Quinn Foster said that the Ozark Coalition works to track extremists and white supremacy groups in the region. A few individuals yelled at protesters from their vehicles, but the confrontation did not escalate. 

As the crowd continued to grow late into the afternoon, Quinn Foster gathered the group around a microphone and shared the heart behind the demonstration. “I want to be very clear that the state has the full intention of instigating a culture war for no reason. I will say trans lives exist, states don’t have to,” they said. “You can’t get rid of trans people. You can get rid of a state pretty f****** quickly. But we’re going to remain visible here. We’re going to remain loud here, regardless of what this f****** legislature decides to do.”

Maddie Booker, president of Young Democrats at Northwest Arkansas Community College, spoke alongside Aaron Clarke of Bridge the Gap Northwest Arkansas about taking a bill to Little Rock that puts correct Black history into Arkansas textbooks. “Black people have contributed to American society from the beginning, with this country being built on the unpaid labor of our ancestors to the present time with the avid consumption of our culture through our music, clothes, food and slaying,” Booker said. “Yet when you open an Arkansas history book, you don’t see our rich history or the pain we have experienced in this country.”

Booker went on to describe instances of Black history missing from education in Arkansas, including the Tuskegee experiments and the 1919 Elaine Massacre. “It is outrageous to me that in Arkansas’ history books, slaves that were beaten, sexually assaulted, eaten, had their hair, skin and teeth ripped off and used for clothes and accessories are now being called land workers,” Booker said. “I cannot imagine a good reason why the history books in Arkansas would call slaves land workers–a lie–,but not include the Elaine Massacre which affects the very systems that we are going to be participating in as soon as I get this in front of the lawmakers.”

Clarke reminded the crowd of the deaths of Wright and Toledo and the recent resignation of Bentonville Fire Captain Benjamin Snodgrass. Snodgrass has plead not guilty to charges of misdemeanor battery and public intoxication for attacking an Asian man in Hot Springs on March 13, according to KNWA and FOX 24.

“What changes are we really truly seeing in America right now? We have a new president named Joe Biden, but what changes have we seen in the Black and minority communities in America, right now?” Clarke said. “The police are still oppressing us. They’re still shooting us. They still don’t care about our lives. We cannot continue to allow this to be the trend. NWA is our home.”

Following the speeches, the group marched around the square and down to the Washington County Courthouse.

The Malcolm Project NWA, which is affiliated with The Ozarks Coalition and Bridge the Gap Northwest Arkansas, will be hosting a Black Lives Still Matter protest on April 23 at the Bentonville Square from three to six p.m.

Photos by María Aguilar/The Threefold Advocate