By Andrew Devamo, The Associated Press
Little Rock, Arch. (AP) – Finally a push to enact a hate crime law Arkansas, A state with a history of white supremacists, embodies all the elements for success: a popular Republican governor who prioritized it, major corporations supported the idea and gained support from communities where hate groups thrive.
But without such a law, the chance to end Arkansas’ gap as one of only three states is already under threat before lawmakers return to the capitol. Conservative majority-GOPs have gone on to defeat the bill in the Legislature, although similar measures have been taken in other red states.
The bill’s dull prospects threatened a legislative priority for the government. Asa Hutchinson, who prosecuted racist militia members as a U.S. Attorney, but without the specific penalties of a hate crime law.
If victims are targeted because of their race, ethnicity or sexual orientation, “we have to express ourselves as a society that should not be tolerated and we should increase the punishment for that,” Hutchinson Associated this week Told the press.
The proposal in Arkansas would impose additional jail time of up to 20% or a fine for targeting someone, as it would impose fines on a number of factors, including race, religion, sexual orientation, or gender identity. The prosecution would have to prove that the victim’s crimes were sufficient factors in the crime.
Similar proposals have stalled over the years, but Hutchinson made it a personal cause and the idea gained new momentum, citing the threat of mass shootings. Texas Walmart said in 2019 that federal authorities prosecuted it as a hate crime.
Hate groups have long claimed Arkansas as a haven. Dozens of members of the New Aryan Empire, a white supremacist group that prosecutors said are engaged in drug trafficking and intimidating testimony, were indicted on federal charges in the state last year.
In the 1980s, as a US attorney, Hutchinson placed a bulletproof vest to negotiate an end to the deadlock with a white supremacist group in the Ozark Mountains. Hutchinson noted that the case preceded federal hate crime offenses.
He said, ‘I got a 20-year sentence against the leader of this group. I would have loved there was 25 years with a good rise to hate crime, ”he said.
The bill has strong support from Democrats, but conservatives have pressed familiar objections to the inclusion of LGBT protections.
Family Council Executive Director Jerry Cox said, “Unfortunately, this law creates more inequality to particular categories of people based on their sexual orientation, gender identity and other characteristics.”
Hutchinson and outgoing Senate President Jim Hendren have refused to remove sexual orientation or gender identity as categories under the bill. The bill has also faced widespread complaints from critics, who say that single penalties have been increased for some groups.
“If you’re going to do it for one group of people, why wouldn’t you do it for another?” Said incoming Senate President Jimmy Hickey, who says he does not believe the bill can pass.
The likelihood of the hate crimes laws being approved is mixed in the other remaining states. In South Carolina, more than 80 businesses signed a letter last month endorsing such a measure, but the Republican governor of South Carolina, Henry McMaster, who is also a former prosecutor, has questioned the requirement. The prospects are more uncertain in Wyoming, where the 1998 murder of gay college student Matthew Shepherd sparked a national movement for hate crime laws.
“I think all three states don’t want any of them to be the state that is the ultimate state of hate crime law,” said Aaron Ahlquist, director of the Anti-Defamation League’s South Central Region.
Advocates in Arkansas are looking forward to the business and community groups will support their efforts. Bentonville-based Walmart and Springdale-based Tyson Foods have also said they support hate crime law making.
Harrison and the surrounding city of Boone County, where the Ku Klux Klan and other white supremacists have been active for years, passed resolutions last year urging the Legislature to measure hate crimes.
Supporters acknowledged the challenges but said they hoped Bill could reach Hutchinson’s desk.
Hutchinson’s nephew Hendren said, “Any bill that has been defeated for 20 years takes a little time to turn on that train.”
Associated Press reporters Mead Groover in Cheyenne, Wyoming and Meg Kinnard in South Carolina, Columbia contributed to this report.
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