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OPINION | JOHN BRUMMETT: The Arkansas way

by John Brummett | April 13, 2021 at 2:01 a.m.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson says the hate-crime bill by another name that he and the state's business community have been peddling is an "Arkansas solution."

He is saying that Arkansas is a peculiar place that can't address straight-up the matter of violent crime based on hate because of race, creed, religion, ethnicity, country of origin, sexual orientation or gender identity.

He is saying Arkansas must go at it by daring not to utter any of those words or phrases, because white male state senators in Arkansas don't like those words and phrases.

So, we'll just say it the Arkansas way: If you do an aggravated crime against somebody and the prosecutor can show a court that you committed the crime because of the victim's grouping, whatever that grouping, then we won't provide for supplemental sentencing like a regular hate-crimes bill, but we'll say you can't get let out of prison before serving 80 percent of your sentence, because that's more than usual.

As one of the white male Arkansas state senators put it, the bill could apply if you did a violent crime against a dairy farmer.

The prosecutor would have to convince a court that what motivated you to assault a dairy farmer was that dairy farmers bug you as a group.

But we don't see a lot of reports of hatred toward dairy farmers manifesting itself in violent crimes against them. Or any. Bullying of dairy farmers because they're dairy farmers is not a thing.

If it starts to become a thing, then we could amend the law to add "animal husbandry practices" right after gender identity.

The same could go for newspaper columnists. Maybe somebody would beat me up because he didn't like people who give their opinions in the paper. But that would be a tricky application, because, most likely, any such incident would bear specifically on the nature of the opinions, not a vast grouping of all opinion writers.

Opinion writers vary. In fact, any such assault most likely would come from one newspaper columnist on another.

On the other hand, we confront regularly rampant incidents of people irrationally enraged by deep primitive hate of homosexuals or persons appearing as a different gender from what they formerly appeared, and inflicting pain and injury against such persons.

So, a typical hate-crimes bill specifies sexual orientation and gender identity to address the specific public policy need, which is to give extra punishment for crimes based on that kind of hate and thus try to deter the frequent occurrence of such crime.

This dynamic closely resembles the tiresome "Black lives matter" debate.

Right-wingers decry the notion that one racial category of lives matters, because, they say, all lives matter. But the point is that, in America, Black lives have not mattered equally or at all in our unfortunate history. Saying so specifically and affirmatively now is to confess to that evil, repent of it, and seek to go and sin no more.

We don't need to affirm that dairy-farmer lives matter. Nobody reasonably doubts it.

So, for our special "solution" in Arkansas, we must try to become the 48th or 49th state (South Carolina's bill is pending) with a hate-crimes law by using trickery and a broad whitewashing brush.

It's pretty obvious that the governor and business leaders have been pushing a cover-our-behinds solution simply so that we can say we have a hate-crimes bill. The motivation is to head off any unflattering image from the conspicuous lack of one that might start to hurt modern business growth in the state.

And they've made a bit of a mess of it.

Just look at the scandalous way by which it was asserted that the "Arkansas solution" had passed the House Judiciary Committee last week.

That's the only competitive committee in the Legislature, with 10 Republicans and nine Democrats. The chairman, Rep. Carol Dalby, largely considered an establishment Republican rather than an extreme right-wing one, declared the bill passed on a voice vote. But all Democratic voices had seemed to be "no," as had at least one right-wing voice, presumably on the position that even hate-crimes dilution is bad.

Nine Democrats and one right-winger ... that doesn't pass the bill.

So, Dalby simply declared the bill passed, ignored a proper motion for a roll call, and declared the meeting adjourned.

House Speaker Matthew Shepherd, an establishment Republican co-sponsoring this "Arkansas solution" for his ally the governor, said later that it sounded to him like the "ayes" were louder.

Obviously, the "Arkansas solution" is not based either on parliamentary procedure or arithmetic.

Please understand that hate-crime laws vary in phrasing state to state. But ours is a special kind of finesse. And it probably ought to carry an asterisk denoting, "Enacted without Democratic votes and may not actually have passed at all in a House of Representatives committee."

Maybe the modern business community won't read the footnotes.


John Brummett, whose column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, is a member of the Arkansas Writers' Hall of Fame. Email him at [email protected] Read his @johnbrummett Twitter feed.

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