It’s been nearly a year since Ahmaud Arbery was fatally shot after being chased around a Glynn County, Ga., neighborhood. Arbery’s accused attackers are charged with multiple felonies, including murder, and are sitting in jail cells after being denied bond multiple times. Meanwhile, Gov. Brian Kemp announced a new bill Tuesday to change Georgia’s citizen’s arrest law, apparently, to ensure that what happened to Arbery never happens again—and it only took a whole damn year.
I know: Some of you are going to say that I should be giving Kemp his flowers for doing something good. But I don’t praise people for doing the bare minimum, and I won’t be praising the governor for making Black votes vanish by proposing changes to a law that should have been made long before any of us knew the name Ahmaud Arbery. That being said, I’m also not terribly impressed with the changes being proposed.
Anyway, from the Hill:
Kemp’s office said the bill, which will be carried by state Rep. Bert Reeves (R), would overhaul the state’s current citizen’s arrest law to help eliminate “any potential legal loopholes that could be used to justify vigilantism.”
Currently, a “private person may arrest an offender if the offense is committed in his presence or within his immediate knowledge,” the law states.
“If the offense is a felony and the offender is escaping or attempting to escape, a private person may arrest him upon reasonable and probable grounds of suspicion,” it continues.
Under Kemp’s proposal, similar rights would only extend to security officers, private investigators, business owners and their employees, as well as weight inspectors in specific instances.
One section of the bill would allow business owners and their employees to detain offenders that the owner or employee has probable cause to believe is committing theft on the business’s property.
That same section also includes provisions allowing restaurant owners and their employees to detain offenders they have probable cause to believe are attempting to “dine and dash,” another allowing weight inspectors to detain individuals when needed “in the course of their duties,” and one that permits licensed private security officers and private investigators to detain someone “when conducting their duties in the performance of their businesses.”
Here’s a question: What qualifies a civilian to determine probable cause?
Don’t get me wrong, I do believe people have the right to protect themselves and their property, but since civilians tend to be just as prone to racial profiling and using more force than necessary as police officers are, it’s hard to get comfortable around the idea of non-law enforcement officials having the right to detain someone based solely on their own judgment.
According to CNN, the bill would require anyone who has detained someone to call the police within an hour and if the cops don’t arrive within an hour, the detainee must be released. An hour seems like a long window for a citizen to call the authorities after forcing another citizen to stay put; I’m just saying.
In the interest of fairness, it’s worth noting that the proposed legislation does limit who has the right to take the law into their own hands. After all, Greg and Travis McMichael and William Bryan weren’t business owners protecting their property. They were wannabe vigilantes playing redneck Batman and Robin who allegedly spotted a Black guy in their neighborhood and chased him around for some time before trapping him and causing his death. It does appear that Kemp’s potential overhaul of the law will prevent this exact scenario from happening again—I just think there’s still too much wiggle-room for similar injustices to happen.
According to the Hill, Kemp’s office said the bill would also ban the “use of force that is likely to cause death or great bodily harm to detain someone under this Code Section unless the detention is to protect self, others, ones’ habitation, or to prevent a forcible felony.” This provision almost had me until the “prevent a forcible felony” part because that language is just way too vague and, again, it trusts citizens to know the law and apply their untrained judgment fairly.
“Georgians can still defend themselves and their home,” Kemp said, CNN reports. “Private business owners can still reasonably detain lawbreakers and our heroes in law enforcement remain able to keep our communities safe day or night.”
He also said the proposal would “prevent the terrible consequences of a vague and outdated law.”
Maybe he’s right. In a perfect world where a lot of Georgians aren’t trigger-happy, power-trip-prone and racist, I’d probably have more confidence in the efficacy of Kemp’s proposed overhaul.
I guess we’ll just have to see.