It is never the "big words" that cause those who make our laws to stop and draw backward. It is always the "little words."
In 2021, voters will hear a good deal about why Arkansas does or does not need a hate crimes law. The discussion will come from those who are black, white, rich or poor and others both in and out of political power in our Red Republican majority state of Arkansas.
It will be a classic struggle of the "little words" that may indeed change a big word bill.
There are also politicians who will try their mightiest this upcoming Legislative Session, starting on Jan. 11, to bring Arkansas, at least alongside of 47 other states in our Union, that have some type of hate crime laws on the legal books.
Here are the five little words that will be absolutely Herculean for legislators to discuss in honing this new hate crime law bill -- already filed in pre-bill filings.
"Sexual orientation and gender identity."
There are the five little keys words that can cause so many, so much grief, disdain, objection, outright anger and opposition on this issue.
These same five little words will seem like absolute freedom and necessary criminal protections that are wanting, for others.
These five words, must, I repeat, must remain in this bill to be a new, successful and true statute as intended and needed.
State Senator Jim Hendren, R-Gravette, is offering up this pre-filed bill to bring "hate crimes" punishment to those who commit acts against citizens in our state. The bill, rightfully so, contains these five little words.
He is the governor's nephew, a second generation of the Hendren linage of freethinking Republicans in Northwest Arkansas.
Hendren says, after an examination of his soul and learned Christian principles, it is time for this bill.
He encouraged all citizens to call their state legislators and offer up their take on this issue, both pro and con.
But understand this, Hendren and a clear majority of others, often standing silent, but standing on this issue are ready for Arkansas to have a hate crime enhancement legislation approved in the upcoming session.
The verbiage is very deliberate on Hendren's crafting of the bill.
He acknowledged as much in an Op-Ed opinion piece in the Northwest Arkansas issue of the "Arkansas Democrat-Gazette" recently.
Hendren sees the absolute need for such a law to protect the citizens of Arkansas.
There have been previous hate crime bills offered in both Houses in past years. Always with calls for such bills, there is a smug and false suggestion bandied about saying this type of law offers a new type of classes of hate crime, misdemeanors or felonies.
"Not so," Hendren said his bill does not.
The bill proposed only increases penalties for criminal acts already on legal books in Arkansas. "There are no new "hate crimes," only stiffer penalties for current criminal acts like assault, vandalism, attempted murder, etc.," Hendren wrote.
This new law does NOT prohibit free speech, no matter how foul and disgusting the verbiage may be when directed at others.
And like Senator Hendren suggested in his op-ed piece, please keep your vile words away from me, as a courtesy. No one served in military service and/or died, so you could freely fling curses and evil words at one another whenever you want in a public forum.
These proposed legal enhancements for crimes are no more biased than enhanced penalties for targeting certain groups today. Why can we enhance criminal penalties for criminal acts against a law enforcement officer, officer of the court, or a legislator -- and not enhance the similar criminal penalty enhancements against criminal acts of those who have targeted, assaulted or hurt others because of "sexual orientation and gender identity."
Why not indeed?
--Maylon Rice is a former journalist who worked for several northwest Arkansas publications. He can be reached via email at [email protected] Opinions expressed are those of the author.