DUMAS, Ark. — The small city of empty storefronts and vacant lots that is Dumas, Ark., has seen its population drain away steadily over the decades. But each spring, people of the diaspora have made their way along two-lane country roads, driving through cotton fields and catfish farms and finally into Dumas for Hood-Nic, the community’s big “neighborhood picnic,” which serves as an informal homecoming.
It is typically a low-key day full of preachers, rappers, raffles, food trucks and a contest for custom-car owners. The event raises money for scholarships and promotes nonviolence. But this year, organizer Sylvester Spinks Jr. said, something “allowed the devil to slide in.”
An evening eruption of gunfire in a crowd of roughly 1,500 people at the Hood-Nic festival on March 19 resulted in the largest mass shooting in the United States this year, leaving a 23-year-old man dead and 26 other people wounded, including five children. Last week, authorities arrested Brandon D. Knight, 22, a North Little Rock man who, according to a police affidavit, admitted to firing a handgun at a man who he said had robbed and shot an acquaintance that day.
suggests is a 30 percent rise in murders since 2019. Some residents wondered if metal detectors and surveillance cameras would help. The Rev. Arthur L. Hunt Jr., a local activist, said the underlying social problems could be ameliorated by his pet project — a proposed multimillion-dollar arts and technology college.
Guns and Gun Control in the U.S.
Flora J. Simon, the mayor of Dumas, said she was not sure if anything could be done to prevent another shootout. “If two people want to fight, I don’t care how many people, how many teachers you’ve got on duty on the playground,” said Ms. Simon, a retired high school science teacher. “They can be sitting there having a nice conversation, all of a sudden they jump up — and they fight.”
notes that the rate of gun deaths increased by 40 percent in the state in the last decade, compared to 33 percent nationwide.
The recent political climate has favored loosening gun restrictions even further. Last year, the Republican-controlled State Legislature passed a law that allows residents to carry concealed weapons without a permit. Mr. Knight told the police he had kept his handgun in his waistband. He was arrested on suspicion of battery and aggravated assault, but has not been accused of violating any weapons possession laws.
The Hood-Nic festival began in 2004, an attempt to build something positive in a community that was already shrinking dramatically, as farms grew increasingly mechanized and companies moved overseas. Mr. Spinks and a group of friends built on an existing front-yard barbecue and added rap performances and other attractions.