In a small town in Arkansas, crime, terror and an emergency curfew

EUDORA, Ark. – In the small town planted in a seemingly endless stretch of flat Arkansas farmland, the sense of danger had grown. There had been shootings, home invasions, unlicensed teenagers going on rides that ended in accidents. The police had been unleashed.

Then, on Christmas Eve, a bullet pierced Martene Frazell’s window as she closed her curtains. The holiday feast she was preparing was still on the stove as Ms Frazell, a 47-year-old known to be a constant presence at her church, lay bloodied and dying on the floor.

His murder crystallized fear and frustration over the violence in Eudora, prompting city officials to take drastic action last week: an emergency curfew preventing the roughly 1,700 residents from leaving their homes after 20 hours. Exceptions would only be made for professional or medical reasons. , officials said.

“Please help us put an end to these senseless criminal acts,” Mayor Tomeka Butler pleaded in a brief video uploaded Dec. 27 to announce the emergency declaration. “If you are caught during curfew hours, you will be subject to arrest and search.”

The curfew has prompted complaints from residents worried about losing their ability to move freely. The owners of a liquor store and a chicken wing restaurant – among the few businesses usually open after 8 p.m. – feared losing money.

But many in Eudora — including those who think the curfew is urgently needed — see it as a desperate, stop-gap measure that will do nothing to undo the decline and divestment that has sparked the community’s struggles.

“I’m tired of senseless violence – I actually care,” said Sgt. Joe Harden of the Eudora Police Department, which has a full-time staff of him, the chief, and another recent academy-graded officer — all of whom have recently worked 14-hour or longer shifts. “I just want things to change for the better.”

Police say they blamed the turbulence mainly on young people, many of whom are of secondary school age, who took to the streets at night, and on skirmishes between cliques that escalated into violence.

But the blame also rests on something deeper, some locals say. Eudora’s population has dwindled over the years. The streets are dotted with shuttered storefronts, abandoned churches and overgrown properties. The high school has closed. Sergeant Harden remembered the days when Eudora had its own little league. What remains, residents said, is a vacuum that has allowed discord and crime to fester.

“There’s so much conflict in a small town – unnecessary conflict,” said Reverend David Green Sr., 62, pastor of St. Peter’s Missionary Baptist Church, who grew up in Eudora and also raised there. their children.

The Eudora Troubles afflict many rural towns in the South, where a lack of opportunities and resources have contributed to the violence. Nearly 60 miles to the north, in the small town of Dumas, a community festival in March erupted in gunfire, becoming one of the country’s largest mass shootings of 2022 with one person killed and 26 others injured.

In Eudora, officials said there had been nearly a dozen shootings in recent weeks and threats of further violence. One December night, four bullets were fired into Alilesha Henderson’s living room while her 6-year-old son was playing video games. The holes left in the wall were only inches above where he was sitting.

“He narrowly missed being shot in the head,” Ms Henderson said. No arrests have been made, but she suspects the shooting involved someone who had a conflict with her nephew.

“I haven’t been home since – put it that way,” she said. “I tried to go home yesterday. I arrived in my living room, I turned and I left.

Fears have grown since the death of Ms Frazell, the second homicide at Eudora this year. A 40-year-old man was also injured in the Christmas Eve shooting, which is being investigated by Arkansas State Police. No arrests have been made, authorities said.

That evening, Pastor Green rushed to Mrs. Frazell’s house and sat with her, waiting for an ambulance to arrive. He tried to comfort her, imploring her to hang on, even though she told him she knew she wouldn’t survive.

“I held his hand until the last moment,” recalls Pastor Green.

Ms. Frazell was a familiar figure around Eudora, known for her jokes and friendly nature. She volunteered at Pastor Green’s church, where she worshipped, and worked at a flower shop.

“She prayed for everyone,” Sergeant Harden said.

James White, manager of Southern Sips, a liquor store just off the main drag in Eudora, said the unrest in town didn’t affect him until the Christmas Eve shooting. “That’s when this innocent woman was killed,” he said.

“Most of these kids grew up together,” Mr White, from Eudora, said of the youngsters now in warring cliques. “Some of them ate at the same table at others’.”

Mayor Butler announced the “mandatory civil emergency curfew” two days after Christmas, and on Thursday city aldermen voted to extend the measure through the first week of January.

“The elderly, my people of wisdom, are scared,” Ms Butler said at an emergency town meeting on Thursday evening. “If you can’t feel safe at home, then what do we do? It’s time to wake up.”

Some argued that city leaders acted recklessly.

“It happened so fast,” Nancy Hollins, 69, said of the curfew. “We must consult the citizens.

According to her, teenagers wandered the streets because their parents had abdicated their responsibilities. “We had curfews imposed by our parents,” Ms Hollins said as she waited for the meeting to start.

Janice Palmer exclaimed, recalling what her parents told her as a child: “When the street lights come on, be home.”

Ms Palmer said she shared the fear. “It scares you to sleep in your own house,” she said. But she also feared the curfew would weigh on her income as the owner of Flavours, the wing joint that stayed open until midnight.

At the emergency community meeting, where dozens of residents crowded into the pews of a church, officials acknowledged the concerns. Ms Butler said the curfew did not infringe on anyone’s constitutional rights. Police Chief Michael Pitts said the circumstances were serious enough to warrant such a harsh response.

“I know it’s an inconvenience to some, but it’s a comfort to others,” Chief Pitts said, adding, “It’s not always going to stay that way.”

The meeting became tense and rowdy as residents rose to their feet, asking why police hadn’t done more to share information about the crimes and demanding that city officials do more to get outside help. “Our city is under siege,” said one woman.

An older man asked if the police would arrest or summon him if he was late on his way home from running errands. The chef replied that they probably wouldn’t.

The curfew, he said, was intended to help the overwhelmed police department.

“We’re a skeleton crew,” Chief Pitts said.

The department is also short of resources: its vehicles have broken down. Chief Pitts’ ballistic vest is an accessory. He and the officers have to rely on their own binoculars.

“Criminals have better weapons than us,” Chief Pitts said.

He implored other law enforcement agencies for help, whether with officers or equipment. “We’re asking – we’re begging – for help,” he said, the long hours straining his voice. “I have no ego about it.”

But Mrs. Henderson stood up and told him that Eudora could not rely on others to come to her aid. “We have to face the facts,” she said. “As Eudora, we should be used to being the underdogs.”

She waved to a family across the aisle. They had a parent who spoke negatively about his family members, she said. “We crushed all of that.”

“Lives are at stake,” Ms Henderson said. “People try to play people against people. God is not happy.

“Eudora,” she continued, “must become Eudora again.”


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