Opponents of stand your ground legislation celebrated when Senate Bill 24 was defeated in a House committee in early February. However, the bill was brought back to the committee later in the month. This time the committee advanced the legislation to the full House who approved SB 24. The legislation was delivered to the governor who signed it into law.
Saraí Portillo, deputy director for Arkansas United, was one of several people who provided testimony against SB 24 during committee hearings. Portillo says she was surprised and sad when the governor didn’t veto the legislation.
“I really thought that we had hope, a little bit of hope of not passing here in Arkansas, but based on history and definitely based on the struggle here in the South, [it would] be most likely to pass,” Portillo said.
In signing the legislation into law, Governor Asa Hutchinson reiterated his desire for legislators to pass hate crimes legislation. During his State of the State address in January, Hutchinson read letters he received from Arkansans in support of hate crimes legislation including one from Jimmy Warren, a community advocate from Conway.
“There’s economic value to it, there is systemic value to it, there is just a value of doing what’s right in it and I think essentially that’s what it comes down to,” Warren says.
Arkansas is one of only three states without hate crimes legislation and Benny Johnson, founder and president of the Arkansas Stop the Violence Movement, says that needs to change. No one deserves to be discriminated against because of the way they look or act, he says.
“Arkansas is way behind and it is time that Arkansas legislators step up to the plate and do the right thing,” Johnson says.
While advocates for community of color are disappointed about the passage of certain bills during the current legislative session, Warren says that can be used as motivation to fight for the passage of other issues.
“People are feeling some type of emotion behind a lot of these bills that have been passed, so the best thing that we can do right now is organize voters, organize people to run because there’s going to be a fight,” he says.
You can hear more from this conversation by listening to podcast at the top of this page.