Arkansas communities endorse hate crimes law effort

Mid-South

Arkansas State Capitol building w/ trees and the front lawn

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Community leaders in an Arkansas region that has struggled with racism and white supremacists over the years endorsed an effort by the governor and lawmakers to enact a hate crimes law.

The leaders of Harrison and surrounding Boone County signed resolutions Wednesday denouncing bigotry and racism, and urging state lawmakers to pass “substantive, comprehensive” hate crimes legislation. Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson and a bipartisan group of legislators earlier this month unveiled a proposal to enhance penalties for crimes motivated by the victim’s race, religion, sexual orientation or other factors.

“I am hoping now that our community can come together, respect everyone and move forward in one positive direction,” Harrison Mayor Jerry Jackson said at a ceremony with Boone County’s judge and the head of the Harrison Regional Chamber of Commerce.

Billboards with white supremacist messages have appeared in the city over the years. The city’s leaders have said their reputation is being unfairly tarnished by a small group of people, and have tried to counter the messages with their own “Love Your Neighbor” billboards.

Arkansas is one of three states without a hate crimes law, and the proposal has the backing of major companies including Bentonville-based Walmart. South Carolina and Wyoming are the other states without a hate crimes law.

Hutchinson praised the city and county for their resolutions.

“I commend Boone County for affirming that we are at the point in our history that we must hold to a greater degree of accountability those people whose violent acts against another are born of a hatred for their victims’ race or religion,” Hutchinson said in a statement.

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