Minister describes tension with police over efforts to protest
JONESBORO, Ark. – Signs prohibiting convicted felons from living at Cedar Heights Apartments are discriminatory, says Minister Ime Elugbe with Future for Felons.
From 10:30 AM to 12 NOON on Saturday, October 6, Elugbe will lead the protest over the “discriminatory signs.” He’s asking for the public to join him. The protest will be held in the road where Melrose and Cedar Heights intersects.
The signs in question, seen above, are public nuisance signs. In 2011, the owners of a number of residences in the area agreed to have their rental homes declared public nuisances due to high crime. NEA Report has reported on a number of crimes in the area.
Elugbe takes issue with the entire message but he’s especially focused on the last line, prohibiting convicted felons (who have served their sentence) from being on the property. He says by preventing felons from being able to live there, it’s unfairly discriminatory.
“The signs represent the violation of human dignity and rights,” Elugbe said. “It’s actually the last statement on the sign that is addressed to convicted felons. The first part should be a concern to anybody. That is a violation of the fourth amendment to the constitution.”
While the Cedar Heights area in north Jonesboro has been a hot-spot for criminal activity, police have worked to reduce delinquent behavior. Police Chief Rick Elliott told The Jonesboro Sun it gives police “leverage” to “maintain some order.” Elugbe argues in this case, the ends do not justify the means. He said he has seen real examples of this hurting families.
“There is a resident there who has a son who needs to parole out to her,” Elugbe said. “Well he can’t because convicted felons are not allowed on the property. Here’s another problem. You’re disconnecting people from their primary social capital. They’re being cut off.”
The initial plan was for a protest and march on September 22 but Elugbe said Jonesboro police seemed less than helpful when he applied for a permit. He said he was told he would have to pay $10 per barricade (18) to the street department and $25 an hour for each officer who would work the event. In addition to facing a potential bill of several hundred dollars, Elugbe said police dissuaded him from holding the protest until October 6 due to the upcoming fair. He also canceled plans to march to reduce the expenses.
“I could sense a little tension,” Elugbe said. “Their unwillingness to help.”
Elugbe said he has spoken to both Mayor Harold Perrin and Police Chief Elliott about his beliefs but has gotten nowhere. He said Perrin told him there was nothing the mayor could do and he said the police chief echoed the same sentiment he told The Sun in an Aug. 20 story, which was that the signs seemed to have helped (but he would look at taking them down in the future, if area crime decreased).
“We kind of had a little bit of a verbal spar, if you will,” Elugbe said, chuckling. “The point is this. The focus is always on what was done and never the why and the contributing factors are never taken into account. The fact that there is a correlation between poverty and crime, low socioeconomic status and crime, these are things they are displaced by. These are the contributing factors that are not being addressed. Of course, he’s saying, when we put the signs up, crime was reduced by 45 percent. There’s no argument that we want to reduce crime. The way you’ve gone about it is reducing human dignity. It’s discrimination.”
Landlords also seem to agree with the criminal abatement on the property, the newspaper report indicated, but Elugbe is undeterred.
“I’ve also written the ACLU, so that’s also going,” Elugbe said.
He plans to continue his fight both as a possible civil rights issue. He also hopes to appeal to the empathy of area residents.
“A lot of people think, well they’re offenders,” Elugbe said. “They don’t have rights or dignity. That’s where they’re wrong. It is important to understand that an individual never loses their dignity no matter what mistake they’ve done. It’s their value and their worth. That’s connected to who created them and God created them. We must see them as God sees them. They are loved by God. People have to keep that in mind.”