Story at a glance
- On Tuesday, a law aimed at addressing hate crimes passed the Little Rock city government.
- A similar bill has been introduced in the state legislature.
Little Rock is now the first city in Arkansas to pass hate crime legislation, which mandates increased penalties for hate crimes that target people based on their race, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, disability or gender identity, The Associated Press (AP) reports.
The law also applies to other offenses that “strike special fear within victimized groups, fragment communities, and tear at the very fabric of our democratic way of life,” the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reports.
On Tuesday, Little Rock’s Board of Directors approved an ordinance that imposes $1,000 fines for first offenses related to hate crimes, as well as a jail sentence of 30 days, 90 days, or a year, depending on the severity of the violation.
Arkansas is one of only four states without a specific hate crimes law, even though the issue has come up over the years to enact such legislation in line with the national legal trend, according to the AP. The other three states without hate crime laws are Georgia, South Carolina Wyoming.
The new law also requires convicted offenders to undergo a supervised release for up to a year and is applicable to individuals 18 or older.
Little Rock Mayor Frank Scott believes that the new law will set an example for all cities, particularly on the heels of the national Black Lives Matter protests. The protests have catalyzed a racial reckoning in the U.S., as cities and states face renewed pressure to address systemic racism and inequality.
"It's my belief that this will serve as model legislation," Scott was quoted as saying.
Over 7,000 separate incidents considered hate crimes were reported in 2018, according to data from the FBI.
Director Kathy Webb of Little Rock’s Ward 3 is reportedly the primary architect of the legislation, working extensively with attorneys from the Anti-Defamation League to create the ordinance.
In response to the legislation, the Anti-Defamation League South-Central Regional Director Aaron Ahlquist issued a statement on Tuesday evening.
“ADL believes the passage of this ordinance sends a clear message to the State legislature that Arkansas should join the 46 other states which have already enacted hate crime laws. And we urge other Arkansas communities to amplify this message by providing hate crime protections to their residents,” the statement read.
Notably, within the law’s section regarding vandalism on public monuments and places of worship, City Attorney Tom Carpenter told reporters that the law can apply to references to Black Lives Matter and the antifa movement, as well as to vandalism related to white supremacy and other racist sentiments.
On the state level, a bipartisan group of Arkansas lawmakers have reportedly drafted a bill that would further increase penalties for hate crimes. The bill is slated to be discussed in the state legislature during the January session, according to reports.