In a Small Arkansas City, Crime, Dread and an Emergency Curfew
- Post AuthorBy Henry Wolff
- Post DateWed Jan 04 2023
In the small city planted in a seemingly endless spread of flat Arkansas farmland, the sense of danger had been building. There had been shootings, home invasions, teenagers without driver’s licenses going on joy rides that ended in crashes. The police had been run ragged.
Then, on Christmas Eve, a bullet pierced Martene Frazell’s window as she closed her curtains. The holiday feast she had been preparing was still on the stove as Ms. Frazell, a 47-year-old known for being a constant presence at her church, lay bloodied and dying on the floor.
Her killing crystallized the fear and frustration over violence in Eudora, pushing city officials to reach for a drastic measure last week: an emergency curfew restricting the roughly 1,700 residents from being outside their homes after 8 p.m. Exceptions would be made only for work or medical reasons, the officials said.
“Please help us bring these senseless acts of crime to a stop,” Mayor Tomeka Butler pleaded in a brief video posted online on Dec. 27 to announce the emergency declaration. “Should you be caught during curfew hours, you will be subject to being stopped and searched.”
The curfew has prompted complaints from residents concerned about losing their ability to move freely. The proprietors of a liquor store and a chicken wing spot — among the few businesses typically open past 8 p.m. — worried about losing money.
But many in Eudora — including those who believe the curfew is urgently necessary — see it as a desperate, stopgap measure that will not undo any of the decline and disinvestment at the root of the community’s struggles.
“I’m tired of the senseless violence — I actually care,” said Sgt. Joe Harden of the Eudora Police Department, which has a full-time staff consisting of him, the chief and another officer who recently graduated from the academy — all of whom have recently been working shifts of 14 hours or longer. “I just want things to change for the better.”
The police say they have traced the turbulence mostly to young people, many of them high-school age, who have been out on the streets at night, and skirmishes between cliques that escalate into violence.
But the blame also rests with something deeper, some residents say. The population of Eudora has dwindled over the years. The streets are dotted with shuttered storefronts, abandoned churches and overgrown properties. The high school closed. Sergeant Harden remembered when Eudora had its own Little League. What remains, residents said, is a void that has allowed discord and crime to fester.
The troubles in Eudora afflict many rural towns across the South, where an absence of opportunity and resources has contributed to violence. Almost 60 miles north, in the small city of Dumas, a community festival in March erupted into gunfire, becoming one of the country’s largest mass shootings in 2022 with one person killed and 26 others wounded.
In Eudora, officials said there have been nearly a dozen shootings in recent weeks and threats of more violence. One night in December, four bullets were fired into Alilesha Henderson’s living room as her 6-year-old son played video games. The holes left in the wall were just a few inches above where he sat.
Fears have magnified since Ms. Frazell’s death, the second homicide in Eudora this year. A 40-year-old man was also wounded in the Christmas Eve shooting, which is under investigation by the Arkansas State Police. No arrests have been made, the authorities said.
Mayor Butler announced the “mandated civil emergency curfew” two days after Christmas, and on Thursday, the city’s aldermen voted to extend the measure into the first week of January.
Some argued that city leaders had acted rashly.
“It happened so fast,” Nancy Hollins, 69, said of the curfew. “You’ve got to consult the citizens.”
As she saw it, teenagers were roaming the streets because their parents had abdicated their responsibilities. “We had curfews by our parents,” Ms. Hollins said as she waited for the meeting to start.
- Post TagsBlack Culture, Crime, Murder