As we continue to mourn the tragic loss of life in El Paso and Dayton, it appears that the suspect in the Texas attack is a white nationalist who hates immigrants. He traveled more than 600 miles to a border town, where the majority of the population is Hispanic. Law enforcement agencies are investigating the attack as a hate crime, which will allow the imposition of a more severe penalty if he is convicted.
In Arkansas, prosecutors could not file those charges because we do not have a hate-crime law. We are one of four states that does not allow an increased penalty for a defendant who violently attacks individuals simply because of who they are.
We must change that. Today, I am asking the General Assembly to pass legislation that will allow an enhanced penalty for a hate crime. I do not want Arkansas to be one of those states that does not increase the punishment for a person who is convicted of harming someone under these circumstances. I want Arkansas to say loudly and clearly that we are not going to tolerate violence inflicted on a person because of that person’s status.
In the past, there’s been a reluctance to enhance penalties for crimes against specific categories of victims. As the thinking goes, every person is equally valuable, and the punishment for a crime against one person should be the same as it is for a similar crime against anyone else. But this is about evaluating motive and punishing the perpetrator.
The principle is already in place in our laws. When a person with a prior criminal record commits a crime, the sentence will be more severe than the sentence for a first-time offender who commits the same crime. The difference in punishment reflects the history of the offender and not the value of the victim.
If a terrorist attacks individuals because they are Jewish, that is a hate crime that deserves an increased penalty. It is that simple, but that important.
Arkansas already has laws on the books that enhance punishment. One of those is Act 332, sponsored by Representative Dwight Tosh, which increased the penalty for someone who is convicted of targeting a law-enforcement officer. Again, it is about the perpetrator and how we can punish or discourage this type of hate crime.
Arkansans must speak with one clear voice that we will not tolerate violence against a person simply because of who they are.