Arkansas among 3 states that lack hate crime law

Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson has made enacting one a priority in 2021

Arkansas among 3 states that lack hate crime law
The Urban League of the State of Arkansas held an "Arkansans United Against Hate" event on the Arkansas Capitol steps Thursday, April 1,2021 (Source: The Urban League of the State of Arkansas)

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (KSLA) - There are three U.S. states that do not have hate crime laws: Wyoming, South Carolina and Arkansas. Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson has made enacting one a priority in 2021, but the effort has stalled due to resistance among conservatives in the majority-Republican legislature.

The Department of Justice says on its website that “even if a state or territory does not have a hate crimes law, hate crimes can still be reported to the Federal Bureau of Investigation.”

Arkansas lawmakers have introduced several bills this legislative session addressing hate crimes.

House Bill 1020 would impose up to 20% additional jail times or fines for targeting someone because of those factors and others, including sex, religion, gender identity, disability or military service. Prosecutors could only seek the enhanced penalties if they can prove the victim’s attributes were a substantial factor in the crime being committed. The bill has not made it as far as a committee hearing since it was introduced in 2020.

Senate Bill 3, which some are calling a vague, drastically scaled-back hate crimes measure, no longer explicitly refers to race, sexual orientation or gender identity. SB 3 removes other specific classes that were covered in HB 1020, including sex, disability or military service. Instead, it refers to crimes committed against someone because of their “mental, physical, biological, cultural, political, or religious beliefs or characteristics.”

The Arkansas Senate Judiciary Committee voted down SB 3 on Wednesday. After a motion to pass it out failed, Sen. Trent Garner, R-El Dorado, made a rarely used “do not pass” motion to kill the bill in committee – effectively halting any future votes on the measure. Sen. Bob Ballinger, R-Oark, seconded Garner’s motion, which failed on a roll call vote.

“Not having hate crime laws is not something Arkansas should be proud of and it’s something we should not take lightly,” said Scott Hamilton, CEO of the non-profit, Urban League of the State of Arkansas. “It shouldn’t be something we should try to eliminate just for the sake of eliminating it. Anything we do in the hate crime legislation space needs to be well thought out and needs to really encompass the objection of a hate crime bill. A hate crime bill is not going to stop someone from doing something.

We’ve got people in our communities that will do things that are not good and sometimes are hate and biased-driven, but what a hate crime bill says to the community and those who visit is that this state understands the issue does exist and this state does not want that to occur. Again, a bill is not going to stop someone from doing something, but what it can do is make residents, visitors, businesses more comfortable that the state truly does believe that is an issue and is prevalent in our society. This legislation needs to be specific in terms of what it is doing, the groups of folks it is protecting, because it should protect everyone and shouldn’t be created just to say you’ve done something and check the boxes and that’s one of the concerns that we have right now and don’t want to see happen.”

The Urban League of the State of Arkansas announced its new campaign, called “AR United Against Hate,” in April.

The Urban League of the State of Arkansas held an "Arkansans United Against Hate" event on the Arkansas Capitol steps Thursday, April 1, 2021
The Urban League of the State of Arkansas held an "Arkansans United Against Hate" event on the Arkansas Capitol steps Thursday, April 1, 2021 (Source: The Urban League of the State of Arkansas)

“What we have been seeing with our 93rd Legislature and nationally, a lot of things coming from different state capitols that are concerning,” Hamilton said. “We see things in the voting space that lead to what we tend to consider voter suppression potentially. We see things from a healthcare standpoint, certainly things with weapons and firearms, Stand Your Ground type bills. A big thing we are looking at is making sure our legislators are aware of the impact that they may not be aware of and unintended consequences. Making sure that voices that are typically not heard are so that our legislators are fully aware of the work they are doing and how it could impact people.”

The Asian American Pacific Islander Democratic Caucus of Arkansas says Asian American hate crimes in the U.S. have risen by 150% since 2020 and over 500 crimes were reported in 2021 alone.

On March 13, now former Bentonville fire captain, Benjamin Snodgrass, 44, was arrested and charged with misdemeanor third-degree battery and public intoxication for allegedly attacking Liem Nguyen while he was waiting for his Uber outside Oaklawn Casino in Hot Springs.

Nguyen said while he was minding his own business, Snodgrass came up to him and said “his kind” of people aren’t supposed to be here before allegedly threatening to kill him.

“The scuffle happened, then punches happened, but he put his hands on me and I had to defend myself after that,” Nguyen said. “I want to speak up to help other Asian communities. If something happens to you, speak up. Don’t hide from it. You can’t hide from people like this. This hate stuff has to stop. We are all human beings. We are equal.”

Snodgrass later issued an apology and resigned.

Snodgrass’ next court date is scheduled for 8:30 a.m. on May 6 at the Garland County courtroom in Hot Springs.

Arkansas among 3 states that lack a hate crime law; several proposals are on the table

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