LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Little Rock became the first city in Arkansas to pass a measure with increased penalties specifically for hate crimes that target people based on their race, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability.
The city’s Board of Directors on Tuesday approved the ordinance that would enforce up to $1,000 in fines for a first offense, depending on the violation. In addition, the penalty includes a sentence of 30 days, 90 days or a year in jail or a combination of fine and imprisonment.
Arkansas is one of only four states without a specific hate crimes law, declining over the years to follow the national legal trend for combatting violence incited by prejudice, discrimination or racism. The other three states that lack hate crime laws are Georgia, South Carolina, Wyoming and Indiana.
Little Rock’s new measure states that enhanced penalties for crimes that target people’s race, religion or sexual orientation are a way for society to recognize that those offenses “strike special fear within victimized groups, fragment communities, and tear at the very fabric of our democratic way of life.”
Little Rock Mayor Frank Scott Jr. said other cities can follow in his city’s footsteps, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported Wednesday.
“It’s my belief that this (ordinance) will serve as model legislation,” Scott said.
Little Rock Ward 3 City Director Kathy Webb worked with attorneys from the Anti-Defamation League for more than a year to create the legislation. Webb said the ordinance requires Little Rock police to report hate crimes to the FBI.
Aaron Ahlquist, ADL’s south-central regional director, said the measure’s approval sends a clear message to the Arkansas Legislature that the state should adopt hate crimes laws.
“And we urge other Arkansas communities to amplify this message by providing hate crime protections to their residents,” Ahlquist said in a statement Tuesday.
Meanwhile, a bipartisan group of Arkansas lawmakers released last month a draft of a bill that addresses hate crimes by enhancing penalties for targeted offenses in the state. The bill is expected to be discussed in the Legislature during the January session.
Last year, Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson said Arkansas should have harsher penalties for those who commit crimes targeting people because of their race, ethnicity or religion.