(The Center Square) – Georgia House unanimously passed a bill on Monday to reform the law on the arrest of citizens. This is a historic step triggered by the death of Ahmaud Arbery, who was killed by two residents in Braunschweig last year.
Georgian law allows a civilian to arrest someone if he or she witnesses a crime or has “instant knowledge” that someone has committed a crime. If the crime is a criminal offense and the suspect tries to escape, the law also allows a person to arrest the suspect. House bill 479 would nullify the civilian population’s right to make these arrests, with a few exceptions.
Critics of the law said it predated civil rights when it was used to legally kill and abuse newly liberated black Georgians. Rep. Bert Reeves, R-Marietta, who introduced the law, said his own research showed it was used to justify lynching in the state.
Rep. Al Williams, D-Midway, said the legislation would have been “impossible” when he was an employee at the State Capitol in 1975.
“As sad as it is and as it looks, there is no light from his death, that day is coming,” said Williams. “Do we have the opportunity to say to America:” This is not the Georgia of old. “
HB 479 would allow business owners to detain someone suspected of theft in their facility. Weight inspectors, licensed private security guards, and private investigators may also detain someone on duty. The measure only prohibits the use of force if it is not considered self-defense under Georgian law.
Waycross Prosecutor George Barnhill cited Georgian citizens’ detention law as a reason not to bring charges against Gregory and Travis McMichael’s father-son duo last year after the couple moved to Arbery, who lived in a neighborhood in the Jogged near Braunschweig, was captured on video. Travis McMichael shot and killed the Black Arbery after a confrontation on February 23, 2020. Many lawmakers pondered the Arbery family’s pain on Monday.
“Ahmaud’s father, Marcus Arbery, said he didn’t want his son’s death to be in vain, and I’ll tell you something. Ahmaud’s death is not in vain,” Reeves said. “We bring change. Ahmaud and his life and his legacy [are] will be that agent of change. “
The bill would allow police officers to make arrests outside their jurisdiction for assisting officers in another jurisdiction while pursuing a suspect who has escaped their jurisdiction or when they “see” or “know right away” a crime. However, the Georgia Sheriffs’ Association said the provision could create confusion among officials.
The bill cleared the house, 173-0. It is now going to the Senate for examination. Kemp is expected to sign the laws he supports.
“The unanimous passage of HB 479 by Georgia House is an important step in our efforts to eradicate injustice in Peach State while protecting the sacred right to defend ourselves and others,” Kemp said in a statement. “With broad, bipartisan support, our revision of the Citizens Detention Act strikes a critical balance between protecting the lives and livelihoods of our families, friends and neighbors, and preventing rogue vigilantism from threatening the safety and God-given potential of all Georgians. “