The “Love Unites Us” mural at 1605 W. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. / Courtesy photo
City Council members on Tuesday approved a new law allowing prosecutors to present evidence that a misdemeanor crime was hate-based.
The goal is to discourage people from committing acts of hate by encouraging a stronger punishment when someone commits a criminal act with the intention or purpose to hurt, intimidate or terrorize a victim because of their actual or perceived race, religion, gender, gender identity, national origin, sexual orientation or disability.
Supporters said without state protections in place, the city should do as much as it can to help deter hate crimes.
“Arkansas is one of only three states that does not have a state hate crime law,” said Council Member Teresa Turk, who sponsored the measure. “Georgia just passed one in June of this year. The other two are South Carolina and Wyoming.”
Turk said the local measure is “extremely modest” since cities are limited by state law when it comes to enacting protections for residents. Still, there are options for local municipalities, she said, citing a hate crime ordinance that was adopted by the Little Rock Board of Directors in July.
“What would be ideal would be for the governor to actually initiate legislation to form a broad state hate crime bill,” Turk said. “But in the absence of that, I think it would be very important for Fayetteville to follow Little Rock’s lead.”
Turk said in light of recent events in Fayetteville, it’s time to take action.
Fayetteville police are still searching for whoever is responsible for vandalizing a mural with white supremacist graffiti in September.
The “Love Unites Us” mural at 1605 W. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. was defaced when vandals painted over the word “unites” and replaced it with the word “weakens.” A white supremacist slogan was also painted on the building.
The building earlier this year was vandalized with “White Pride” graffiti, but the building’s owner gave permission to local artist Olivia Trimble to design a mural to cover the words with something positive. Trimble, along with a group of volunteers, painted the wall bright blue with the words “Love Unites Us” in pink and red. The second round of graffiti has since been painted over again.
“This will add a bit more of a punch and consideration to the prosecuting attorney’s toolkit,” said Turk.
The council voted unanimously to approve the measure during last week’s council meeting.
The measure includes 16 misdemeanors that are subject to the new hate crime component, including:
- Battery in the third degree
- Assault in the second degree
- Assault in the third degree
- Terroristic threatening
- Criminal mischief in the first degree
- Criminal mischief in the second degree
- Filing a false report with a law enforcement agency
- Disorderly conduct
- Harassing communications
- Communicating a false alarm
- Threatening a fire or bombing
- Stalking in the third degree