The shooting death of Ahmaud Arbery stood out last year because unlike so many instances of an unarmed Black man being shot, it wasn’t by a cop; it was by a group of white men who grabbed their guns and wanted to play cop. Arbery’s tragic death has led to the state of Georgia repealing its Civil War-era citizen’s arrest laws.
According to CNN, H.B. 479 was signed into law by Georgia Governor Brian Kemp on Monday with members of Arbery’s family in attendance. The bill, which passed with bipartisan support in the state legislature, will no longer allow citizens to attempt an arrest should a crime be committed in their presence.
“Ahmaud was the victim of a vigilante-style violence that has no place in our country or in our state,” Kemp said while signing the bill. “Today we are replacing a Civil War-era law, ripe for abuse, with language that balances the sacred right to self-defense of a person and property with our shared responsibility to root out injustice and set our state on a better path forward.”
Arbery’s mother, Wanda Cooper-Jones, told reporters at the signing that while she’s happy for the repeal, she’s saddened about how it came about. “Unfortunately, I had to lose my son to get significant change, but again I’m still thankful,” she said.
Arbery was out for a jog last March when he was pursued by Greg McMichael, Travis McMichael, and William Bryan. The three believed Arbery was responsible for a series of robberies in the neighborhood and claimed they were conducting a citizen’s arrest and acting in self-defense when they confronted him.
Federal prosecutors said the three men “used force and threats of force to intimidate and interfere with Arbery’s right to use a public street because of his race.”
While Arbery was jogging, prosecutors said the McMichaels “armed themselves with firearms, got into a truck, and chased Arbery through the public streets of the neighborhood while yelling at him, using their truck to cut off his route, and threatening him with firearms.”
Bryan also joined the chase and cut off Arbery’s route with his truck, prosecutors said.
“All three defendants attempted to unlawfully seize and confine Arbery by chasing after him in their trucks in an attempt to restrain him, restrict his free movement, corral and detain him against his will, and prevent his escape,” the Justice Department said in a press release.
Video footage of the fatal shooting, recorded by Bryan, shows Arbery and Travis McMichael tussling before three gunshots are heard. Blood appears on Arbery’s T-shirt below his left ribcage. He stumbles and falls in the middle of the two-lane road.
A federal hearing was held for the three men on Tuesday. All three of the men face one count of interference with rights and one count of attempted kidnapping, with the McMichaels also facing a count of using, carrying, and brandishing a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence.
On the state level, jury selection for their trial begins on Oct. 18. Greg and Travis McMichael have pleaded not guilty to charges of malice and felony murder, as well as counts of aggravated assault, false imprisonment, and criminal attempt to commit false imprisonment. Bryan has also pleaded not guilty to charges of criminal attempt to commit false imprisonment and felony murder.