The governor is encouraging the passage of hate crimes legislation to ease fears about the new law.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced he would sign Senate Bill 24 into law during a “pen and pad” session with reporters yesterday afternoon. Jeremy Jones, pastor of St. Paul AME Church in Jonesboro, said he was upset by the decision.
“As a citizen of Arkansas, as a pastor of Arkansas, as a father, a Black man, a Black male figure of Arkansas, I’m definitely disappointed that we would pass such law,” he said.
Jones was one of nearly 80 Arkansas faith leaders who sent a letter to Hutchinson in January in opposition to the bill. SB 24 was defeated by the House Judiciary Committee Feb. 2 before returning to that same committee with an amendment Feb. 23. This time legislators rejected the amendment, but approved the original legislation, which was passed by the full House the following day.
Jones is concerned the law will have a greater impact on the state’s minority community.
“Especially with the background, the history that Arkansas has, I think it will affect us more as a minority group than any other race,” he said.
While the governor has often said there is no compelling need for this legislation, Hutchinson said he was persuaded by the changes that have been made since the legislation was first introduced two years ago. However, Hutchinson also said he discouraged the bill moving through the Arkansas General Assembly after hearing “genuine fears on the impact of the stand your ground bill” from members of minority communities.
“I have no doubt that these concerns are heartfelt and real, but there’s nothing in the language of the bill that would lead to different outcomes in our criminal justice system,” Hutchinson said.
After listening to those who opposed to the bill, the governor said he’s “more convinced than ever” that Arkansas must pass hate crimes legislation. The justification for stand your ground laws and hate crimes laws are the same — the fundamental right to feel safe, Hutchinson said.
The new stand your ground law removes the “duty to retreat” before using deadly force in self-defense. Arkansas’s neighboring states have already done so, Hutchinson said. Likewise, Arkansas is one of three states that does not have a hate crimes law.
“I hope that the members of the General Assembly who supported SB 24 will also support legislation like our neighboring states and 47 other states emphasizing that Arkansas will not tolerate crimes targeting its citizens for who they are,” Hutchinson said.
Rev. Jones agreed there should be some law to protect people from hate crimes, but not to encourage it.
“I think stand your ground definitely promotes hate crime,” he said.
Jones is collecting his thoughts about how to move forward and said he plans to address the new law during his sermon this weekend. He has already sent a message to parishioners informing them of the bill’s passage and advised them to legally arm themselves, be more aware of their surroundings and be more active in community meetings.
With the governor’s signature, SB 24 is now Act 250.