With hate crimes legislation currently under consideration in the Arkansas General Assembly, ACHI’s Health Policy Board recently adopted a statement in support of addressing hate-motivated crime through legislation and other means.
The statement, which does not endorse a specific bill, reads: “The ACHI Health Policy Board’s position is that hate-motivated behavior, including intentional criminal acts toward a person or groups of people based on actual or perceived group membership, is a public health issue. Hate-motivated behavior poses a threat to the public’s health and well-being, especially for vulnerable populations. Public health efforts to address hate-motivated behavior should include interventions across structural, interpersonal, and individual levels, and should complement legal and law enforcement solutions such as hate crime laws, community-based policing, and federal data tracking.”
Currently, only three states ”• Arkansas, South Carolina and Wyoming ”• have no hate crimes law on the books.
Sen. Jim Hendren, I-Gravette, and Rep. Fred Love, D-Little Rock, have filed matching bills ”• Senate Bill 3 and House Bill 1020, respectively ”• which would increase penalties for people convicted of crimes targeted at people because of their ancestry, color, current or former military service, disability, ethnicity, gender identity, homelessness, national origin, race, religion, sex, or sexual orientation.
The bills also would require law enforcement agencies to submit data on hate crimes to the state attorney general, who would be required to publish the data in an annual report.
Hate crime generally was on the rise prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. The FBI reported in November that there were 7,314 hate crimes in the U.S. in 2019, the highest number since 2008. The agency also said there were 51 hate crime murders in 2019, the highest number since it began collecting hate crime data in the early 1990s.
Since the start of the pandemic, hate crimes targeting Asian Americans have increased sharply. The Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino, reviewed preliminary police data in 16 of America’s largest cities and found that crimes targeting Asians increased by nearly 150% in 2020.
In Arkansas, the FBI reported that there were nine hate crimes in 2019, 13 in 2018, seven in 2017, and 12 in 2016.
Some have questioned whether FBI’s hate crime statistics convey an accurate picture of the problem, however. ProPublica reported in 2017 that the reporting system contains many flaws, including a lack of hate crime training for local law enforcement agencies, a lack of commitment to reporting hate crimes among leadership at local agencies, and a lack of sustained infrastructure for ensuring that hate crimes are reported as such. Estimates from the federal government’s National Crime Victimization Survey placed the number of hate crimes in the U.S. at almost 250,000 a year, far exceeding the FBI’s yearly counts, ProPublica reported.