Largent: Hate Crime Law Needs to Be a Priority for Arkansas in 2021

by: Scott McCaulley

As 2020 drew to a close, an area Chamber President renewed the call for the Arkansas Legislature to pass a Hate Crime Law in the upcoming Legislative Session.

Harrison Chamber of Commerce President/CEO Bob Largent, in an opinion piece issued by the Chamber and published in the Arkansas Democrat Gazette, says the legislature needs to enact this law in light of events around the country in 2020 as well as the publicity generated by a video that went viral showing racists remarks made by individuals in the Wal-Mart Parking lot in Harrison.

Largent said in the opinion piece that the video, which he states was edited to three minutes from hours of video shot, was also a call to action that led to a joint resolution between the Chamber, the City of Harrison, and Boone County denouncing the actions and calling for the passing of Hate Crime Legislation.

The complete piece from Bob Largent published in the Arkansas Democrat Gazette is below:

A new normal is starting to set in within Boone County and the north central Arkansas region. While we continue to face serious challenges as a result of the covid-19 pandemic, I’m extremely proud of our region’s people and communities for their determination and grit the past year.

In the midst of the largest health crisis in a century–one that has created personal, financial, and business losses–our region has been resilient. Across our nation, we see schools closed and small businesses shut down. Arkansas is not immune. But thankfully, Gov. Asa Hutchinson has navigated the pandemic adeptly by both protecting the health of our citizens while protecting the vital roles of businesses and schools.

Amid the personal turmoil of this covid-induced stress, we’ve also seen our citizens, the business community, and elected officials come together on matters that deeply affect who we are as a people. The pandemic isn’t the only public health crisis of 2020. As the nation braced itself for nationwide protests regarding racial injustice, our region was impacted by a viral video showing racism in our community. Our core was shaken. But it awakened and reminded us that we cannot let outsiders define us.

For many years, a small hamlet near Harrison has been the home to a handful of white supremacists who erected hate-filled billboards in our county that helped fuel inaccurate assumptions about the community’s opinion of racial equality. In late June, a professional provocateur came to our town to make an online video capitalizing on the assumptions. After standing on a street corner for days and recording hours of footage, he released a three-minute edited version that highlighted the negative statements, racial slurs, and threats made by a handful of hate-filled people. It went viral and flooded social media.

For the millions of people who viewed the video, Harrison might as well be ground zero for racism in America. The video was painful to see, and while we don’t condone or support the comments heard, we recognized it as a call to duty.

Boone County Judge Robert Hathaway, Harrison Mayor Jerry Jackson, and Harrison Regional Chamber Board Chair Melissa Collins–representing the actions of elected officials and the business community–quickly put forward and signed identical resolutions denouncing racism, hatred, and bigotry. Harrison is proud to be one of the first cities in Arkansas to do this. In addition, these resolutions included our response to the governor’s call to action to support a comprehensive hate-crimes law for Arkansas.

Our state is only one of three that do not have such a law.

Not enhancing penalties for violent crimes committed against people solely because of who they are, what they look like, who they love, or who they worship is unconscionable and is a threat to civilization.

Now is the time for us to renounce all forms of hate and racism in our state, and it’s time for our General Assembly to act. It’s what our faith calls us to do, and it’s what our economic viability requires for growth in the 21st century.
Based on this year, our community’s and state’s values, will and determination have been tested by the pandemic and calls for social justice. I trust that in 2021 we’ll pass this critical test and show the nation and world that we warmly welcome all in the community where we are taking care of business.

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