The killing of Ahmaud Arbery by two white men who thought they could take the law into their own hands sent a ripple effect through the nation that is still being felt today. In an effort to prevent something like this from happening again, the Georgia House unanimously passed a bill overhauling its citizen’s arrest law.
According to CNN, should HB 479 pass in the state Senate and be signed by Gov. Brian Kemp (R), Georgia will become the first state to overhaul its citizen’s arrest law. The history of the law is a sordid one, as it was crafted during the Civil War to grant citizens the right to capture fugitive slaves. “This law’s origins don’t come from the purest of places by any stretch of the imagination,” Republican state Rep. Bert Reeves, lead sponsor of the new bill, told CNN.
Last year, Arbery was jogging in a neighborhood near Brunswick, Ga., when Travis and Greg McMichael chased him down and confronted him at gunpoint because they believed him to be responsible for a string of robberies in the neighborhood, even though a report revealed that there had been no reported robberies in the neighborhood for weeks. Arbery got into a struggle with Travis McMichael over his shotgun and was shot three times, killing him. Video of Arbery’s death went viral, spurring outrage and marking the beginning of what would be a yearlong reckoning on systemic racism and racial violence.
While Arbery was killed in February of last year, both men weren’t arrested until nearly three months later. They face charges of malice and felony murder, as well as counts of aggravated assault, false imprisonment, and criminal attempt to commit false imprisonment. They have pleaded not guilty to all charges.
“After (Arbery’s death) in Georgia last February, it is incumbent on us to act, to make sure that nobody can ever use this outdated, archaic Civil War-era law to chase somebody down, (resulting) in their death,” Reeves told CNN.
Democratic Rep. William Boddie, a co-sponsor of the bill, told CNN that he hoped the bill’s passage will make people less likely to attempt a citizen’s arrest, as they will no longer be able to use it as a defense. Should the bill be passed into a law, it provides extensive guidelines on when a citizen can make an arrest. For example, should a store owner manage to thwart a robbery, they would be allowed to make an arrest but must call proper authorities within an hour or release the detainee. The bill already has support in the state Senate, as well as from the governor, so it’s very likely that it will become law.
“We can never bring Ahmaud Arbery back,” Boddie told CNN. “I hope that we did the right thing to try to do right by Ahmaud Arbery by passing the citizen’s arrest repeal law in the state of Georgia.”