Curtain Call: Historic Movie Theaters & Drive-Ins of Arkansas

For a state as small as Arkansas, its residents have been blessed over the years with an abundance of unique movie houses and drive-ins. This pictorial-essay highlights some of the more regal theaters that graced Arkansas’ down towns and roadsides from the roaring 1920s to the New Millennium.

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The War At Home

Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

Criticism of the militarization of local police forces is commonplace in the post-9/11 world, but the issue has been amplified by the recent events in Ferguson, Mo.

In the wake of a controversial shooting of an unarmed black teenager by a white police officer, the small town of about  20,000 has been besieged by riots, looting and instances of police brutality. While neither the protestors or police can be exonerated for their behavior over the past month, one take away has been the perplexing amount of military equipment utilized by law enforcement.

As various media outlets reported, Ferguson police responded to the riots with snipers, combat vehicles and a general approach toward protestors — peaceful or not — as enemies of the state.

In Arkansas, a state vastly similar to Missouri regarding culture and race relations, would an similar police response occur? In light of the equipment that the authorities have at their disposal, it’s a chilling thought.

New York TimesThis website, which emanates from a frightening report by the New York Times about the proliferation of military-grade equipment in several police precincts across the country, allows users to research the various hardware used by law enforcement, and is sortable by state and county. Arkansas, a state with just over 2 million people, possesses a shocking array of firearms and vehicles that seem more appropriate on the battlefield.

For example, Pulaski County, home to the state’s largest and most metropolitan city, Little Rock, owns several weapons that seem excessive for urban crime. Amid the usual provisions like firearms, utility trucks, and flash lights, police have a grenade launcher, a mine-resistant vehicle and a combat/assault/tactical vehicle. According the website, the total value of those three items — designed specifically for modern warfare — are valued at just north of $1 million.

Even the rural counties aren’t immune. Randolph County has a cargo plane. Baxter, Faulkner, and Mississippi Counties each have an “observation helicopter.” Meanwhile, Benton County, which has 160,000 fewer people than Pulaski County, has two mine-resistant vehicles.

Police simply being in possession of this equipment doesn’t mean they’ll use it. But like John Oliver noted on Last Week Tonight, the dissemination of military-grade weapons, combined with untrained police units, make for a volatile situation.

Unexplained, Arkansas

Editor’s note — This is an excerpt from a piece originally written for THV11. Parts of it have been reprinted here with the author’s permission.

The Denver Post

Mike Huckabee made an unsuccessful bid for the White House in 2008.

Huckabee’s missing files

In January 2007, outgoing Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee made a peculiar request of his staff: destroy the office computers.

Huckabee’s staff obliged, wiping the memory of more than 100 computers before smashing their hard drives beyond repair.

The reason behind the frenzied housecleaning has never been fully explained. Huckabee briefly addressed the issue in 2007, saying the hard drives were destroyed to “protect the privacy” of his staff.

But one unearthed memo referred to potential backups of the destroyed drives. The memo also says the backups were supposed to be delivered to a Huckabee aide.

As of this writing, however, the story was last mentioned in 2011.

Clinton associate murdered execution style

A well known, quasi-political figure around Arkansas in the late 1980s and early 90s, Luther Gerald “Jerry” Parks, Jr. oversaw Bill Clinton’s security detail while Clinton was governor. Parks’ security firm was later contracted to guard Clinton’s presidential campaign headquarters in 1992.

But only nine months after Clinton won the White House, Parks was gunned down in West Little Rock. Parks was leaving El Chico when he was ambushed by two men in a white Chevrolet Caprice at the intersection of Chenal Parkway and Highway 10, where witnesses said the men shot Parks to death before speeding away. The only evidence left behind were 10 9-mm bullet casings scattered on the pavement.

Clinton’s far-right critics pounced on the murder. They said it had political overtones, pointing to the untimely suicide of Vincent Foster – a childhood friend of Clinton’s and one of his closest allies – only months earlier as evidence of a conspiracy.

Parks’ son, Gary, also tried to link Clinton to the murders. He claimed that his father had collected a file on Clinton’s salacious activities and that he was executed due to its contents. The Little Rock Police Department dismissed such claims as “unsubstantiated”.

Adding another twist in the case, Gary was recently charged with the murder of his mother’s new husband, David Millstein. Police in Baxter County think Gary had help, and they believe that the unnamed suspect might also have ties to Jerry’s murder.

Despite the passing of two decades, LRPD says its investigation into the elder Parks’ murder is ongoing.

Wikipedia

The West Memphis Three were freed in 2011 after spending nearly two decades in prison.

Does a killer still roam free in Arkansas?

Damien Echols was the lead suspect in the murders of three West Memphis boys in 1993. After serving 18 years in prison, Echols, along with the two other suspects, Jessie Miskelley, Jr. and Jason Baldwin – subsequently dubbed the West Memphis Three – were released per a controversial Alford Plea in 2011.

In one of Echols’ many interviews while in prison, he issued a sobering notion to filmmakers of the West of Memphis documentary: “The person who killed those three kids is still out there walking on the street.”

Investigators never found any physical evidence linking the WM3 to the crime scene. Moreover, witnesses who originally testified against the trio later said their confessions were coerced by law enforcement. And thanks to improving forensic science, investigators uncovered a strand of DNA from one of the shoelaces used to subdue the victims that didn’t match any of the WM3.

Further complicating the case was the mysterious “Mr. Bojangles.” On the evening of the murders, a “disoriented” African American man, covered in blood and mud, entered a Bojangles restaurant not far from where the bodies were found.

The suspect’s race was an important factor in the case, as the hair of black male was discovered in one of the sheets used to wrap the victims.

Police were summoned to the restaurant, but officers took the report via the drive-thru window and never entered the building to interview the suspect. Blood samples taken from the bathroom were later lost by WMPD investigators before the WM3 went to trial.

Other advocates of the WM3’s innocence point to one of the victim’s stepfather, Terry Hobbs, as the real killer. Hobbs had a history of child abuse and was reportedly the last person seen with three boys.

Sadly, after more than 20 years, it appears that the deaths of Stevie Branch, Michael Moore, and Chris Byers will forever remain unsolved.