A CLOSER LOOK: Arkansas’ draft “hate crime” law. Why now?

A Closer Look
Arkansas State Capitol

ARKANSAS (KNWA/KFTA) — Back in August of this year, Governor Asa Hutchinson (R) unveiled the state’s draft hate crime bill on Wednesday, August 19, and it will be presented at the next General Assembly session in January 2021.

For a long time, there were five states without this type of legislation. But, Indiana and Georgia each signed a hate crimes law in April 2019 and June 2020, respectively. Now, Arkansas is one of three states in the country without this legislation — South Carolina and Wyoming are the other two.

In 2001, a hate crimes measure passed the Arkansas Senate but failed in the House. A similar bill failed in 2018, according to an AP report.

Why now is Arkansas drafting a hate crime law?

Senator Jim Hendren (R-Sulphur Springs) attributes the death of George Floyd as one reason for Arkansas to move forward “to a better future.” The bill Hendren drafted has the support of the Arkansas Legislative Black Caucus, according to House Democratic Minority Leader Fred Love.

Hendren said the bill would enhance penalties for existing offenses, only after law enforcement determines the perpetrator chose the victim because of, ” race, national origin, ancestry, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability.”

Currently, Arkansas has a law that enhances penalties for crimes against police officers and first responders.

“A bipartisan approach is needed for this bill to pass,” Hendren said. “I know we can protect people who are potential victims of hate crimes, while at the same time instilling common sense procedures that will prevent abuse.”

Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge said it’s about time the state joins the rest of the county. At the 2019 Arkansas Sheriffs’ Association Summer Conference she mentioned to legislators to act on this law. In a statement, Rutledge wrote, “It is past time that Arkansas joins the rest of the country and takes an unequivocal stance against hate crimes.”

Another group, Family Council, disagrees with the hate crimes legislation saying it doesn’t work because there is no evidence it has curbed crime in other states. “It takes the focus off of passing good laws that will address meaningful police reform, inequities in prison sentencing, and other critical issues,” said Family Council President Jerry Cox.



The first federal hate crimes statute was signed into law by then-President Lyndon Johnson in 1968. This law made it a crime to, “use, or threaten to use, force to willfully interfere with any person because of race, color, religion, or national origin and because the person is participating in a federally protected activity, such as public education, employment, jury service, travel, or the enjoyment of public accommodations, or helping another person to do so,” according to the United States Department of Justice website. In that same year, housing rights were added to the law.

  • In 1988, Congress added protections of familial status and disability.
  • In 1996, the Church Arson Prevention Act,  18 U.S.C. § 247, made it a crime to destroy or damage religious real property. Also, defacing, damaging, or destroying religious property because of race/ethnicity associated with the property, was included.
  • A gay student at the University of Wyoming was attacked and left to die near Laramie on October 6, 1998. Matthew Shepard, 21, died October 12, 1998, from blunt force trauma six days later at a Colorado hospital. Eleven years later, Congress passed the Matthew Shepard Act in October 2009.

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