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BACKLASH

ON THE MORNING of May 28, 2020, a Black sergeant with the Little Rock, Arkansas, Police Department woke up, turned on the news, and saw the George Floyd video for the first time. “It was just a punch to the gut,” she said. “Or two punches, I guess. You see a video like that, and as a Black woman, it crushes you. And then you see it as a police officer, and you just feel ashamed.”

After watching the video, the sergeant, who I’ll call “Wanda,” checked her cellphone. Overnight, she had received a series of text messages from her colleagues at LRPD. The first was from then-Assistant Chief Alice Fulk, sent just before midnight. “Angie, Debbie, shorty, Linda and Marilyn,” Fulk’s text read, “it’s my understanding that u all hve heard inappropriate sexual remarks made by the chief.”

Wanda was floored. Fulk was referring to Keith Humphrey, who had become the city’s chief of police the prior year. “I had no idea what she was talking about,” Wanda said. “I never told anyone that Chief Humphrey had said anything inappropriate to me — because he hadn’t.”

As she read the replies, Wanda grew more confused. One by one, the other women agreed they would come forward with allegations. “None of them had ever mentioned anything to me about him being inappropriate,” Wanda recalled. “It seemed odd to me. Like they were recruiting.”

Wanda and the other women in the text chain were all part of Fulk’s sizable social circle, many of whom worked with the LRPD. Nearly everyone else in the circle was white. “I dated a white officer who was part of that crowd for about five years,” Wanda said. Referring to Fulk’s broader social circle, she added, “So I guess they were comfortable with me. They’d say things like, ‘She doesn’t hang out with other Black people.’ Or, ‘She’s one of the Blacks that’s OK.’”

“You need to get on this lawsuit train.”

Wanda, who asked that her real name not be used to avoid harassment, didn’t respond to the text. Over the next few days, she said, Fulk’s friends and allies in the police department began to pressure her to come forward with her own allegations. One lieutenant, a close friend of Fulk’s, pressed especially hard. “You need to get on this lawsuit train” — that was the lieutenant’s message, Wanda recalled.

“She kept pointing out that since I’m Black, it was really important that I join them because it would look bad if it was just a bunch of white women accusing him. It didn’t matter that I had nothing to accuse him of.”

Alarmed, Wanda wrote up a memo. “I’m well-versed with the protocol of making a Harassment Complaint,” the memo read. “I feel that it was inappropriate to attempt to persuade me to file a complaint, when I do not have a complaint against Chief Humphrey.”

Wanda gave the memo to her captain, who passed it up the chain of command. When she later discovered the memo never reached Humphrey, she took it to the chief herself.

Within a few days, Wanda got a call from Little Rock’s Human Resources office asking if she wanted to make a formal accusation against Humphrey. “I had never said anything to anyone about Humphrey being inappropriate with me,” she said. Wanda said the HR director asked her questions: Did she see the chief after hours? Did he give her gifts? Did he ever tell her he’d promote her if she “took one for the team”?

Wanda also filed her own HR complaint, detailing how she had been pressured to accuse Humphrey. HR didn’t respond. According to interviews with Black officers, at least one other woman — a white officer — was also pressured to make allegations.

“I think the George Floyd video lit something inside of me,” she said. “And you know, this is still Arkansas. I’m from the country. There’s a lot of white supremacist groups around here. People hear that a Black chief is sexually harassing white women, who’s to say someone doesn’t decide to come into the city and kill him? With all that was going on at the time, I just felt like he needed to know.”

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