In Arkansas, every person has the right to live a happy, whole life. No one should be the victim of a crime because of their race, religion, nationality, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, or disability.

This legislative session, our lawmakers are passing a slew of anti-trans bills. They’ve also dampened the governor’s own Hate Crimes Legislation. The bills in question would increase sentencing an additional 20% for targeting a person based on race, religion, sexual orientation or gender identity. SB3 and it’s companion bill, HB1020, are both supported across the aisle but have yet to gain traction. Embarrassingly, Arkansas is one of only a handful of states without a Hate Crimes law.

No More Hate in Arkansas

Why do we need a Hate Crimes law in Arkansas? According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, an estimated 204,600 individuals are the target of a hate crime each year. Moreover, when a person is the victim of a violent act because of their race, gender, or sexual orientation, it impacts their entire community.

“Whenever a bias-motivated crime is committed, the victim’s entire community is left feeling victimized, vulnerable, fearful, isolated, and unprotected by the law. Such crimes can also lead to reprisals and a dangerous spiral of escalating inter-group tension and violence. Thus, the impact of the crime is far greater than the already terrible impact on the individual.” 

Reported from The Anti Defamation League

But Hate Crime opponents persist. Arguments against the legislation include: 

Twitter thread by Sen. Jason Rapert on why he thinks hate crime laws aren't necessary.
Arkansas lawmaker justifies hate

Who Does Arkansas Care to Protect Against Hate?

Lawmakers Introduce Hate Crimes Legislation

Some states have hate crimes laws that include police officers and first responders as a protected class. Arkansas already has a law on the books that enhances penalties for crimes against first responders. Just this week a Bentonville fire captain harassed and assaulted an Asian American man. The victim of the crime said that before he was assaulted, the fire captain asked him if he knew he was in America, then began to push him.  

Under Arkansas code 5-4-704, if a person intentionally targets a first responder in a crime, the perpetrator will face enhanced penalties. So if the crime was reversed– if the Asian man had committed battery against the fire captain– he would face enhanced penalties. Because we do not have a Hate Crime law, the fire captain will not face enhanced penalties despite targeting a man based on his race.

The Hate Crime Hypocrisy

Arkansas’ code exposes the hypocrisy in every argument made against needing a Hate Crimes law. Those arguing against, like Senators Trent Garner and Bob Ballinger, say that hate crime legislation polices peoples’ thoughts instead of their actions. If that’s the case, why do we already have a law that protects first responders from hate-related crimes? 

Arkansans Have Wanted This for 20+ Years

Sen. Joyce Elliott speaking
Joyce Elliott has been a champion for Arkansans for years

“I am stunned that we are having this battle 20 years after my first term in the legislature.”

Senator Joyce Elliott reflects on her first term in the legislature, when she originally proposed hate crime legislation.

Sen. Elliott attempted to pass hate crime legislation in 2001, but unfortunately it failed. At the time, the delegation did not want to include LGBTQ+ people in the language. In 2001, Sen. Elliott was given a choice: Take out sexual orientation protections, or it will fail. “I could have made that choice,” she said. “But to this day it still brings me to tears that anybody insisted on that. I am never going to single out a group of people to be treated unjustly under our law.”

She goes on to explain the difference between then and now. In 2001, many clergy members came out against the bill, but she said that many are now supporting the hate crime legislation. “The clergy have been so much more courageous, thoughtful and caring.”

But the clergy’s support won’t be enough to pass anti-hate legislation. Sen. Elliott calls Arkansans to action. “If a hate crime bill is going to pass, it’s absolutely going pass because the people in the state rise up and demand it. If you’re tired of what’s going on, you need to do something.

We had an opportunity to pass anti-hate legislation 20 years ago; we may soon be the only state without such protections. We are one of only three states that has yet to enact a Hate Crimes law.

We can’t afford to waste the opportunity to do the right thing again, especially when we are witnessing more hate in our AAPI communities. Arkansans, particularly our most vulnerable, have the right to happy and full lives without the fear of violence.