Hate Crime Legislation in Arkansas Facing Roadblock From GOP Lawmakers

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R)
Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R)
Photo: Win McNamee (Getty Images)

Arkansas is one of three states that doesn’t have a hate crime law on its books. Despite support from community members, local businesses, and the state’s Republican governor, Republican state legislators are working to kill a hate crime bill.

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The Associated Press reports that the lack of hate crime legislation has long made Arkansas a haven for white supremacist groups. Last year, the Arkansas-based New Aryan Empire was indicted on federal charges, with prosecutors alleging the group engaged in witness intimidation and drug trafficking.

The issue has become a legislative priority for Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, who has cited both his years prosecuting hate groups as a U.S. attorney, and the threat to public safety these groups present as the motivating factors in his push for the legislation. The proposed bill would enhance fines and jail time for hate crimes by 20 percent and would require prosecutors to prove that the victim’s background was the underlying motivation for the crime.

Hutchinson told AP in an interview that if a person is the victim of a crime because of their race, ethnicity, or sexual orientation “we have to express as a society that should not be tolerated and that we should have enhanced penalties for that.” He reflected on the time he had to prosecute a white supremacist group in the 1980s during his time as a U.S. attorney.

“I got a 20-year sentence for racketeering against the leader of this group. I’d love to have had 25 years in there with a good enhancement for hate crime,” Hutchinson told AP.

Given that the state’s Republican governor is behind the passing of the bill, you’re probably wondering why the state GOP is intent on killing it? Well, it treats LGBTQ people like they’re people, and we all know that’s a no-no in the GOP playbook.

“Unfortunately, this law creates more inequality by favoring special categories of people based on their sexual orientation, gender identity, and other characteristics,” Jerry Cox, executive director of the Family Council, said last year.

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Sometimes I hate writing stories like this because the dumbfuckery on display just astounds me. How does putting a law in place that deters people from committing violent crimes against someone because of their race or sexual orientation create more inequality? How, Sway? How?

White people really just be saying shit just to say it.

Following Georgia’s passage of a hate crime law last year, Arkansas, South Carolina, and Wyoming are now the only three states without laws that enforce enhanced penalties for hate crimes. More than 80 businesses signed a letter last month encouraging South Carolina to enact hate crime legislation, but the state’s Republican governor, Henry McMaster, has been ambivalent towards the necessity of such a law. In Wyoming, there doesn’t appear to be movement on any kind of hate crime bill. Honestly, if the death of Matthew Shepard—a gay college student who was violently murdered in Wyoming almost 23 years ago—wasn’t enough to spur the state into action, I really don’t know what will.

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The city of Harrison and the surrounding Boone County passed resolutions last year urging the Arkansas legislature to pass a hate crimes measure. The area has been a hub for various white supremacist groups, including the Ku Klux Klan. Major corporations such as Walmart and Tyson Foods, which are both based in Arkansas, have also voiced their approval of hate crime legislation being passed.

It remains to be seen if the bill will eventually pass. I, for one, am doubtful. As long as the GOP believes that protecting the lives of anyone who isn’t a straight, white man is somehow unequal, the fuckery will continue.

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