The law gained national attention last year after the death of Ahmaud Arbery, a black man who was shot after being followed by three men who claimed he was a burglar. Local prosecutors initially refused to prosecute the white men, citing the citizen’s detention law.
After the video of Arbery’s death was released in May and the GBI began investigating the case, the citizen’s arrest defense was disregarded and all three men were charged with murder. You plead not guilty.
Marissa Dodson, a lobbyist for the Southern Center for Human Rights, said a civil liability law on the books has allowed the average Georgian – who is not a law enforcement officer – to “play cop.”
“After slavery was officially abolished, the Citizen’s Arrest Act was used as a justification for white lynch mobs who commit acts of violence against black people in our state,” said Dodson. “This historical pattern of using the arrest of citizens as an excuse to kill black people lasted into the 21st century when Ahmaud Arbery and Kenneth Herring died in 2019.”
Hering was shot dead in Clayton County by a white woman who is accused of following him after he left the scene of the accident, blocked him with her car and ordered him to get out of his car before police say she shot him in the belly.
Rep. Bert Reeves, a Republican from Marietta, sponsor of HB 479, said he wanted to make it clear that nothing in Kemp’s proposal would interfere with a person’s right to defend themselves.
“The arrest of citizens is a very different concept from the concept of self-defense,” he said. “Arresting citizens is an offensive act.”
Cosby Johnson, a lobbyist at the Georgia Chamber of Commerce, said HB 479 would rid the state of outdated laws that protect an atmosphere of hatred, racism and violence.
“It is this complete separation from the notion that we are all one family, sewn together by a unique existence, that enables one to follow, track down, and murder a child of God,” said Johnson. “However, it is even more egregious that a judicial system considered it appropriate to excuse such malice not only with an outdated law, but also with a racially ossified mindset.”
Under current law, any Georgian who believes they have witnessed a crime can arrest the alleged perpetrator if the crime is committed “in his presence or with immediate knowledge”. If the crime is a crime and the person suspected of having committed it tries to escape, Georgians may arrest that person “on reasonable and probable grounds”.
In a letter, the Georgia Sheriff’s Association said it was opposed to extending the powers of law enforcement officers beyond their jurisdiction as it could create confusion among law enforcement officers. It was the only organization that publicly spoke out against the measure.