Legislators soon passed hate crime laws after nearly two decades of trying to get a law back on the books. It increases penalties for people who commit crimes against someone because of their race, sexual orientation, religion, or any other characteristic.
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Governor Brian Kemp and State Representative Calvin Smyre are holding House Bill 426, an anti-hate crime law, after the governor enacted it in 2020 following the fatal shooting of Ahmaud Arbery. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)
When Governor Brian Kemp signed the bill, Democratic State Representative Calvin Smyre declared it a “defining moment” in Georgia history. “Ahmaud Arbery’s death will not be in vain,” said Smyre.
It wasn’t the only big change after Arbery’s death. Shortly after the Hate Crimes Act was passed, lawmakers held hearings on the repeal of the Citizens Detention Act, a civil war bill originally cited by a prosecutor to justify the shooting of Arbery.
The rules allowed residents to take matters into their own hands if they witnessed a crime and the police were not around. Criminal justice experts said the laws to arrest citizens were too easily abused and no longer needed with widespread law enforcement protection and emergency services.
However, when Kemp announced that it would repeal the “old” law, it seemed destined for a protracted battle. A Senate Republican shook his head dramatically “No” when Kemp presented his plan earlier this year.
But the overwhelming support for the repeal in the legislature was a reminder that a political compromise can still be reached under the Gold Dome even in troubled times.
The then MP Bert Reeves, a Republican sponsor of the measure, said at the time that the legislature had received a message that “we must lead the nation because of the events in Braunschweig”.
Wanda Cooper-Jones, the mother of Ahmaud Arbery, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that it gave her comfort to know that his death led to the passage of laws in the General Assembly that created a hate crime law and repealed civil war. Law Arresting Citizens of the Era for Measures That Would Help Other Georgians. “Ahmaud unfortunately lost his life, but the change that has been made since our loss shows my family that he did not lose his life for nothing,” she said. (Nicole Craine / The New York Times)
Arbery’s mother, Wanda Cooper-Jones, told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution after both laws were passed that it gave her comfort in knowing that her son’s death would help Georgians move forward.
“Ahmaud unfortunately lost his life, but the change that has been made since our loss shows my family that he did not lose his life for nothing,” she said.
After the Arbery rulings were pronounced, the country’s top politicians praised the decisions. Kemp said Arbery was a “victim of vigilante justice that has no place in Georgia.” State Representative Chuck Efstration, GOP sponsor of the Hate Crime Act, said the “state is better because of Ahmaud Arbery’s life and legacy.”
Democrats made similar statements, but with one important caveat. US Senator Raphael Warnock, who traveled to Braunschweig to meet his family shortly after Arbery’s murder, said the verdict “maintains a sense of accountability but not true justice.”
“True justice looks like a young black man who doesn’t have to worry about getting hurt – or killed – while jogging, sleeping in his bed, while living a very long life,” said Warnock. “Ahmaud should be with us today.”
Greg McMichael, from left, Travis McMichael and William “Roddie” Bryan react when a judge reads sentences convicted of the murder of Ahmaud Arbery