Hate crime laws in Arkansas

Arkansas is one of five states in the Unit­ed States with no hate crime law whatsoev­er. You read that correctly. In 2018, we have no hate crime laws in Arkansas. That means that the courts in Arkansas cannot punish someone for crimes motivated by hate.

Senator Joyce Elliot, who was a state rep­resentative on the judiciary committee at the time, filed the first bit of hate crime legisla­tion in Arkansas in 2001. The bill ultimately failed.

In 2017, Elliot co-sponsored a similar bill with Rep. Gary Leding. The purpose of the bill was to “enhance sentencing for hate crimes,” according to an article by KARK.

This bill too ultimately failed.

The main concern about the law from those who opposed it was it would be treating select groups of people with more importance,” Leding said, according to an article by KNWA. Leding went on to say: “It’s a bad look for our state, especially when you consider in recent years Arkansas has been among the top states having the high­est number of active hate groups per capita. That’s not a good look when we’re trying to get people to move here.”

Leding is right that it’s a bad look for Arkansas. Though The Arka Tech is unsure about his assertion that Arkansas has the highest number of hate groups per capita.

Currently Arkansas has 12 active hate groups, according to the Southern Law Pov­erty Center. The organizations criteria for what defines a hate groups is “an organiza­tion that – based on its official statements or principles, the statements of its leaders, or its activities – has beliefs or practices that attack or malign an entire class of people, typically for their immutable characteristics.”

You can visit splcenter.org to see which groups are considered hate groups in Arkan­sas and where they are located. We will go ahead and say that no hate groups are locat­ed in or around Russellville, at least not any that the SLPC is aware of.

However, hate groups are not the only ones who can commit hate crimes. Anyone, any time and any place can commit a hate crime.

Congress defines hate crimes as a “crimi­nal offense against a person or property mo­tivated in whole or in part by an offender’s bias against race, religion, disability, ethnic origin or sexual orientation.” It says nothing about who commits the crime.

Hate crimes are a big issue. “You have a right to exist in your body, who you are with certain kinds of sacred beliefs, such as your religion, without being attacked for it. It just hasn’t registered with many people how se­rious this issue is,” Elliot said, in the article for KARK.

The Arka Tech could not agree more. However, Elliot may have missed the mark a little by singling out religion. In fact, Ar­kansas does have a law that “criminalizes interference with religious worship,” ac­cording to naacp.org. What Arkansas does not have are “penalty enhancement laws for crimes motivated by: gender, race, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, political affiliation or age,” accord­ing to the same source.

Having hate crime laws seems like a common sense issue for many states (45 out of 50 to be exact). So why is Arkansas so unwilling to commit?

In Arkansas, we rely on federal hate crime laws to govern. This means that crimes that are considered hate crimes are tried in fed­eral courts, which takes the power out of the hands of the state’s government and, by proxy, the people of Arkansas.

Senator Bart Hester opposed the 2017 hate crime bill. “Crime already by definition is a crime, it’s already against the law to harm someone else so we’re just adding to it,” he said in an article by 5News. “Should you have increased penalties for violence against elderly? Should you have increased penalties for violence against young? At what point do you stop? At some point you just have to say a crime is a crime and we are going to deal with it, have the punishments accord­ingly.”

The short answer to Senator Hester’s questions is yes, we should have those pro­visions in place. Yes, a crime is a crime; how­ever, when a crime is motivated by hatred for a something about a person that they cannot change, it becomes an entirely dif­ferent issue. An issue that deserves its own provision in the law.

The bottom line is that Arkansas should be more concerned about hate crimes. Hate crimes are a grim reality for many people. It’s unacceptable to think that people are being attacked or having their property van­dalized simply for being who they are.

We at The Arka Tech want to encour­age you to vote in the midterm elections in November. If you do not vote, nothing will change, and we obviously need things to change. Focus on voting in people who will tackle pressing issues like the lack of hate crime laws in Arkansas. Do your research before you go to the polls.

Besides voting, we would also encourage you to spread kindness. Kindness is so much easier than hate. It is much easier to smile than it is to get angry and yell. It’s also much better for your blood pressure.

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