Quinn Foster is the director of Arkansas Hate Watch, a group he started on his own. You may have seen him carrying a shotgun while marching with Black Lives Matter protestors in Harrison.

Foster says the message of the movement is not to work against police, but to bring awareness to the matter of how some minorities are treated by some police officers who don’t represent law enforcement as a whole.

Foster, 25, explained that he was born in Germany into a military family. When he was a toddler, the family moved back to the states and they lived in southern states. They eventually wound up in Russellville, where he spent his middle school years. He went to high school in New Orleans.

“As soon as I turned 18 and graduated, I got out of New Orleans and came back up to Arkansas,” he said. “In New Orleans you can get into all sorts of trouble. In Arkansas, you have to go look for trouble.”

But it was his experience in middle school that first made him think about the racism that the BLM movement addresses. It was routine, he said, to hear the “N” word tossed at him daily. As a child, he dismissed much of it as boilerplate bullying. But when he came back to Arkansas as an adult and talked to other people in the African American community, he realized those experiences had been real and he began trying to figure out what he could do about it.

He said the BLM movement originally leaned far more to the views of the Democratic Party. As an independent himself, he didn’t really want to follow that avenue. The eventual result was Arkansas Hate Watch.

Foster says his group is between far-left radicals like Antifa and far right radicals like white supremist groups, none of whom his organization is affiliated with.

The death of George Floyd in police custody in Minnesota sparked the BLM protests all across the country. Foster has joined a number of those protests, but his view is to actually work with police and trying to avoid any violence in order to keep protests peaceful and spark the change they want to see.

And the shotgun? Foster said the biggest fear at protests is the possibility of a lone wolf shooter taking aim on the unarmed crowd. It’s about the hope of protecting people who don’t have any criminal intentions. In addition, he’s been the recipient of numerous death threats.

Although the BLM movement has basically spawned the “defund police” concept, Foster says it’s not about taking money from those departments.

Instead, it’s about examining the way funds are spent. They believe that it would be better to spend money on training in social work rather than on military surplus equipment. Police officers might not be needed for domestic disputes where a counselor could possibly defuse the problem and stop it from happening in the future.

At a protest on the square in June, protestors were challenged by a group of counter protestors who maintained that all lives matter. Foster agrees.

“All lives do matter, but until black lives do on the same equivalency, then all lives cannot matter,” Foster said. “The statement ‘all lives matter’ is true, we’re just saying right now the experience of being black is not matching that statement. We’re not seeing that at a legal level or an institutional level, and that’s what we’re trying to get to.”

There is a conversation that has to take place, he said, and white people have to be a part of it. He acknowledges that it’s not comfortable, nor is it easy to explain to people the things that have happened to him.

Foster said he has been in situations where he has feared police, whether on a first date and he was dragged out of his vehicle or going to McDonald’s in the middle of the night with a friend or driving home from work.

“That fear is what started a lot of mistrust towards the police,” he said. “I think if we start working on erasing it, coming to the understanding, getting the conversations going, we may see a whole new America that no one ever imagined.”

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