Harrison mayor’s Facebook post stirs up hornet’s nest | The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

The mayor of Harrison has barred himself from Facebook.

Mayor Jerry Jackson made the decision after posting on the city’s Facebook page that Harrison was a “peaceful” place before two activists arrived with their “Black Lives Matter agenda” and police brutality protests.

In the Aug. 23 Facebook post, Jackson also said a former mayor should “show his love” for the city by removing billboards that he owns that currently display Black Lives Matter messages.

“This also keeps stirring the pot,” Jackson wrote. “I have received many complaints. So now let’s all do what’s best for the community.”

Former Mayor Jeff Crockett said the three digital Black Lives Matter billboards will stay put in Harrison, at least until the contract expires in about a year.

Jackson’s Facebook post was soon deleted, and on Wednesday, he issued an apology on his personal Facebook page.

“This past Sunday, I had an error in judgment with a Facebook post in which I mentioned three individuals in the community as well as commented on the BLM movement,” he wrote. “My post was both inappropriate and unprofessional. I apologize to those individuals and to all the good people of Harrison.”

Jackson said he didn’t call the three people by telephone to apologize.

Amanda Devall said she was shocked to see the mayor’s Aug. 23 Facebook post, which mentioned her and another activist by first name only.

“The mayor’s message when I saw it it shook me to the bone,” Devall said. “I was terrified. His post — using a public, official government page — basically sanctioned people attacking us.”

Quinn Foster, the other activist Jackson mentioned, said he has become “disillusioned with all of it.”

“It was easier in June when I thought the city was on my side,” said Foster, who is Black. “Now it’s impossible. His comment solidified my decision to never try to work with the city government again.”

Devall and Foster live in Harrison. They began holding occasional protests in Harrison in June after George Floyd, a Black man, died May 25 during an arrest in Minneapolis.

The protests on the downtown Harrison square have attracted armed counterprotesters who usually stand across the street on a corner. Foster attended one of the protests armed with a shotgun.

The protests in Harrison were ostensibly against police brutality, “but that does not, and has not, existed here,” Jackson wrote in his Aug. 23 Facebook post.

Jackson praised city, county and state police, saying Harrison has “the best law enforcement.”

“Both Quinn and Amanda know it and should stop the craziness,” he wrote.

“I just got too emotional,” he later said of the Facebook post.

Jackson said he’s been getting a lot of calls — some supportive, some not. Some Facebook commenters said his initial post was racist. Others said he had nothing to apologize for.

Jackson’s online apology has been taken from public to private, available to only his Facebook friends. Jackson said that was done because some out-of-state people were leaving comments under the post. The apology was also emailed to some media outlets.

Jackson said he’s off Facebook, “hopefully,” for the remainder of his term as mayor — another 2.5 years.

Harrison has been haunted by its past. A century ago a white mob drove almost all of the Black residents out of Boone County. Then, in the 1980s, Thom Robb, national director of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, moved to rural Boone County and began using a Harrison post office box for the organization’s address.

Now, about 1% of Harrison’s almost 13,000 residents are Black, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

On Thursday, the Harrison City Council voted 6-2 to pass a resolution condemning racism and supporting a proposed Arkansas hate-crime law. A similar resolution will be considered by the Boone County Quorum Court on Tuesday.

Jackson, who supports the resolution, led the meeting remotely from quarantine because of a covid-19 exposure.

“That resolution is nothing but lip service,” Devall said.

Four months ago, Devall believed that Harrison was suffering from an unjustified bad reputation. She said the protests were ways to “showcase” her town and show people Harrison wasn’t racist.

But now her attitude has changed. Devall said she’s been under “direct and indirect attack” ever since the protests began. She said there have been online attempts to discredit her and ruin her reputation.

“Through all of that, we have put the face out that Harrison is not racist, Harrison is an amazing place,” she said. “We went along with their narrative.”

But Harrison’s problem isn’t just its reputation from a time gone by, she said.

“It’s not a reputation, it’s a reality,” she said. “People don’t want to admit it, but it is. … It’s easy to continue the status quo. They don’t want to question the racists. They don’t want to question the Klan because it may upset their lives. It may upset their personal day-to-day lives.”

Devall said the vast majority of people in Harrison are good, tolerant and open-minded, but with their silence, they acquiesce to the racist few.

“People in Harrison have suffered in silence and have been afraid to speak out for themselves,” she said. “We’re not going to tolerate it anymore. … People here just have to stop fearing. The fear here is real.”

Foster was less optimistic.

“I don’t think Harrison can be fixed,” he said. “I simply think there is no way to make Harrison more egalitarian.”

The race issue has played out in a visual way along Harrison’s highways.

In 2013, bright yellow billboards began to appear in Harrison with messages that read “Diversity is a Code Word for White Genocide” and “Anti-Racist is a Code Word for Anti-White.”

Harrison’s Community Task Force on Race Relations responded with a “Love Your Neighbor” billboard campaign.

All the racial billboards have come down in recent years, except for one on the east side of Harrison advertising “White Pride Radio” and “Alt-right TV.” A petition drive is underway asking for that billboard to be removed. More than 140,000 people had signed the petition as of Saturday.

“I’ve been openly complaining about that billboard for years,” Jackson said.

Jackson said he’s had hundreds of emails about the White Pride Radio billboard, and the city responds to each one.

“This whole matter has just owned me for about three months,” he said.

In June, Miranda Hall of Little Rock decided it was time for Harrison to have some new billboards.

She started an online fundraiser to pay for leasing three Black Lives Matter billboards in Harrison.

She ended the effort after raising $7,611 and leasing three digital billboards from Crockett for a year. The message simply says “Black Lives Matter” in white on a black background.

“Since I was a child, I can remember traveling through Harrison with my family and crying, feeling nauseous, due to the racist billboards I would see when I was passing through,” Hall wrote on the page.

“I wanted to scream at someone. To tell them they were bad for posting these awful messages. I learned as I got older that the KKK still resides about 15 minutes from Harrison. Well, I want them to see our message now. I want them to drive by a big Black Lives Matter billboard! Also, I would really love to see such a positive message displayed to show our support to all the people that gathered to protest,” she wrote.

Hall said she wants to open a business in the area, possibly in Eureka Springs, and she wants Black people who travel through Harrison to know they are welcome there.

“It’s a billboard telling people they matter, that they’re important, that we care about them, that we’re looking out for them,” Hall said. “It’s just a statement to say, ‘We see you, we care about you, and we’re here to help you.'”

Hall said she’s not a member of any Black Lives Matter organization, but she has attended one of their protests in another state.

Meanwhile, a protest against Jackson, organized by a different group, has been scheduled for noon today on the downtown Harrison square.

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