Jimmy Warren: Moving Arkansas Forward

If Jimmy Warren is out in public and sees a white woman walking toward him, he immediately moves to the opposite side.

“It is ingrained in me to get on the opposite side to avoid conflict,” he said. “You’re always anxious, always conscious of what could happen and you work to avoid the misconceptions, because you’ve been through what will happen a thousand times in your head.”

When he walks into a room, he knows there is a chance someone believes he is only there because he’s Black. He’s not there to provide insight, expertise or knowledge. He’s there to meet a quota.

That’s why he approaches everything with the mindset of being smarter, doing more and knowing more than anyone else.

“I have to prove myself all the time, because I know some will assume I’m only in the position I am because I’m Black,” he said. “My guard is up to make sure they see my work and I’m not seen as the Black guy who has this opinion or is against the police. You’re automatically stereotyped.”

It can all be tiring. By the end of the day, his energy is generally spent.

“You’re extending yourself as much as you can,” he said. “You run harder than everyone, you have to be smarter than everyone so your anxiety is up. By the time you get home, anxiety has turned into depression because you question yourself, what you want to do and your purpose because the challenges always come.”

Being the father of Black children only adds to that anxiety.

“You Are Seeing It Right Now on Primetime TV”

There are many similar fears among white and Black parents, but there are others exclusive to Black parents and other minority communities in our society. I wanted to know what Jimmy’s biggest fear was as a Black parent.

“You are seeing it right now on primetime TV,” he said. “You don’t want to get that call that your child has been pulled over because in a Black family, your immediate thought goes to what could go wrong. Second, is the call that child has been shot and killed by an officer or in a school shooting.”

But those unique fears extend well beyond a police stop.

“You worry your child will be seen as an other and won’t be engaged by others as a person with his or her own unique qualities, features, characteristics and stories,” Jimmy said. “I want my kids to be kids and for people to get to know them and learn from them and treat them like real people.”

While it has been draining time — physically, emotionally and mentally — for the entire family, Jimmy said he and his wife are using it as a learning opportunity for their daughters.

“It’s been an open process, we’re allowing them to watch the news, form their own opinions, research them and be confident in them,” he said. “Obviously, we share things with them and want to make sure they have certain values, but we don’t let our biases impact them.”

From Citizen to the Governor’s Task Force

There’s a famous clip of the late Kobe Bryant from just after his Lakers took a 2-0 series lead against the Orlando Magic in the 2009 NBA Finals. Kobe is seated at the podium answering questions from the media with a sullen, gloomy look on his face.

A reporter finally mentions Kobe’s demeanor stating, “I’m still waiting for a big smile from you. You’re up 2-0. What’s the story? Are you not happy.”

Kobe shrugged and said, “Job’s not finished. Job finished? I don’t think so.”

That’s how Jimmy Warren described his mentality when I asked how he felt about his involvement on Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s Task Force to Advance the State of Law Enforcement in Arkansas, specifically regarding the state’s pending hate crimes legislation, which now awaits passage in the legislature.

“We’ll celebrate when it’s done,” he said. “Until the legislature votes on it, it hasn’t happened. We’ll celebrate when we get community policing, when we get the hate crimes bill passed and Arkansas is a national model.”

As a member of the task force, he wants his ideas to be heard and to be the best representative he can to help move our communities forward.

“I want to make Arkansas a model for positive relationships between police and community,” he said.

Since its formation in June, the group — made up of community organizers, activists, city officials and law enforcement officials — has been tasked with studying and analyzing “the best practices and procedures for recruiting, training and maintaining law enforcement officers in Arkansas,” a release from the governor’s office stated.

The task force makes recommendations to the governor on how to enhance trust between law enforcement and the communities it works in. In July, Hutchinson and Arkansas lawmakers unveiled draft legislation for a hate crimes bill. Arkansas is one of only a few states without a hate crimes law.

“It shows compassion and it shows Arkansas won’t stand for racism, hate and discrimination,” Jimmy said. “That’s personal for me.”

What makes the task force’s responsibilities so important in today’s climate is that it shows people from all walks of life have good ideas and are committed to making our communities better, Jimmy said.

“We all can learn from different walks of life and work together for solutions,” he said. “We have real dialogue to clear up perceptions and training. Hopefully, this catches on and we’re able to have these talks in our communities.”

One incident that has garnered attention and protests in Conway is the death of Lionel Morris. He died Feb. 4 while in police custody after being accused of shoplifting from a local Harp’s.

Mayor Bart Castleberry ordered all police body cam and store footage of the incident be released and asked Conway Police Chief William Tapley to place all officers involved on paid leave while an internal investigation continued.

“I observed some things that were concerning to me,” Castleberry said in a statement announcing the orders. “While the police department has my full support, there are some behaviors that must change.”

Morris’ death was ruled the result of “methamphetamine intoxication with exertion, struggle, restraint and conducted electrical weapon deployment,” according to the Arkansas State Crime Lab.

The officers involved were previously cleared of criminal wrongdoing by Prosecuting Attorney Carol Crews, who stated their actions were justified and reasonable in the situation.

The Conway Police Department released a vague statement on Aug. 24, announcing its internal investigation had concluded and that “the department has addressed any personnel and policy issues discovered during the investigation.” Specifics were “deemed closed and per Arkansas law, not subject to public disclosure.”

“There were things in the body cam footage that raised some eyebrows and brought questions about training and professionalism,” Jimmy said. “The City of Conway and Conway Police Department have said they will make changes, which is a good acknowledgement that there were things that needed to be worked on.”

Jimmy has had personal conversations with Tapley about changes he would like to see made within the department.

“We have to do a better job of repairing relationships with the youth in our community,” he said. “Those in high school right now see what is happening in our communities and our society in real-time and in a few years, they will be our leaders. We have to cultivate those relationships.”

For many inner-city kids, Jimmy said, many of their interactions with police are negative and can include the arrest of a parent, family member or friend. 

“White children have different interactions than most black children,” he said. “They might have an officer who goes to their church or is a family friend. Black communities, and children in those communities, need to be introduced to officers at an early age so they can learn they are helpers and guardians.”

While police reform is important, so is solidarity, understanding, empathy and unity among our communities.

“No One is Talking”

Everything seems political now. No matter the topic or discussion, it always tends to end up volatile, divisive and ineffective.

“No one is talking,” Jimmy said. “We’re still humans and we have more in common than not.”

Part of the problem seems to be social media, Jimmy said.

“We have to be for or against something, there’s no compromise,” he said. “Everyone is yelling, ‘This is the only way, I’m not listening to you.’ There’s no empathy.”

Jimmy tries to show the path to empathy, understanding and the sharing of ideas on his Facebook show ArkanTalk. Jimmy speaks with community organizers, politicians and business leaders about strengthening our communities.

“I hope it brings a period of awakening and a lot of reflection so people can see their own biases and where they aren’t doing all they can,” he said. “In that self-reflection, we need to move into action, be an ally and make sure everyone is protected and begin to speak up when we see an injustice.”

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