ADL has renewed its call for the legislature to defeat SB 622, the sham hate crimes bill.

The bill supposedly protects one and all, including neo-Nazis. It carries no sentence enhancement, only an 80 percent sentence requirement for early release. It doesn’t use the word hate. It lists no protected classes.


The ADL is shouting into a mighty legislative wind that votes lockstep in favor of anything the religious lobby wants — pro prayer, anti-abortion, anti-transgender, anti-welfare, pro-gun. (Isn’t the 2nd Amendment in the Bible, too?) But it keeps trying. Its statement on SB 622, which likely will be voted in the Senate Wednesday:

Today ADL urged the Arkansas Senate to reject Senate Bill 622 (“SB 622”) as “check-box” legislation that fails to provide meaningful hate crime protections to vulnerable Arkansans and will bring national ridicule to the State.  Prior to going to the Senate floor, the bill passed the Senate Judiciary Committee which refused to  call it a hate crime bill or consider adding specific categorical protections for vulnerable communities.  Passage of this bill will not remove Arkansas from the list of the four pariah states without a hate crime law because SB 622 does nothing to safeguard those most in need of hate crime protections.  


Aaron Ahlquist, ADL South Central Regional Director, issued the following statement:   


SB 622 and the process that moved it forward is an embarrassment that will damage the State’s reputation. It is not a hate crime bill.  Rather, the legislation is nothing more than a box checking exercise to avoid Arkansas from being labelled the last state without a hate crime law. 


Yesterday, the Senate Judiciary Committee in passing the bill sent the clear message that it does not understand the nature or hate crimes and cares little about providing effective protections to vulnerable Arkansans who are victims of hate.  


Hate crimes target individuals because of characteristics, such as race, religion or sexual orientation, that they cannot or should not be forced to change.  These crimes create collective fear that can terrorize the victim’s entire community and lead to similarly terrorizing retaliatory hate crimes against the perpetrator’s community.  The bill’s proponents fail to grasp that hate crimes protections send a message to communities that the government understands that vulnerability and that they take seriously the need to protect those communities at risk.  


None of the language around SB622 has embraced these basic elements. Virtually any identifiable group is covered by the legislation.  Indeed, the proponents of the bill have said that it protects everybody, including neo-Nazis – the very antithesis of a hate crime bill.  A bill that purportedly protects everybody does not protect vulnerable communities from hate crimes.  


The legislation’s failure to “name the hate” sends the opposite message of the other 46 state hate crime laws.  It says victims are not welcome, safe, or protected because Arkansas does not understand that the distinct nature of hate crimes requires different tools to address and respond to them.  


Aside from these failings, SB 622 is ineffective and constitutionally problematic.  The legislation only applies to the nine types of serious felonies of violence, but that vast majority of hate crimes involve lower-level crimes like simple assault and vandalism.  That means the vast majority of hate crimes occurring in Arkansas would not be covered by SB 622.  


While hate crimes are grossly underreported, the legislation elevates malicious prosecution and filing false police reports of hate crimes to Class D felonies, which will only serve to deter victims some of whom are already fearful of law enforcement from reporting hate crimes.  And the bills failure to enumerate protected categories could result in it suffering the same fate as the former Georgia “hate crime,” which was struck down for being unconstitutionally vague. 


Particularlyin the context of the Senate enacting three overtly anti-LGBTQ+ bills, SB 622 ultimately will invite national ridicule and severely damage Arkansas’s reputation.  The Senate appears to have no issue in singling out vulnerable communities to discriminate against them, but it will not name the hate in passing a law that is supposed to protect them. That harmful and ugly message undoubtedly will impact whether business, tourism or others will come to Arkansas as occurred when other states like Arizona, Indiana, and North Carolina enacted legislation with a similar impact.

A key misunderstanding is thinking that national ridicule will deter the Arkansas legislature. Hell, it inspires them.


Looking for an image of the book, “A Slow Train Through Arkansaw,” which made the state the butt of jokes more than a century ago and which inspired a painting by Thomas Hart Benton, I came across this song. Seems like a good theme song for the day.