The ugly previous of the Georgian Civil Legal responsibility Act

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As AJC’s Bill Rankin wrote, the concept of detaining citizens literally dates back to the English Middle Ages, before there were formal police forces. English common law was then imported into the British colonies and largely ruled the United States even after America declared independence.

In 1863, Georgia was one of the first states in the country to formally codify its laws, including the arrest of citizens, under the direction of a lawyer named Thomas RR Cobb.

Cobb was the cousin of US Representative Thomas W. Cobb, after whom Cobb County was named.

He was also a secessionist and such an unvarnished advocate of slavery that he wrote a book describing the benefits of slavery not only for landowners but also for the enslaved people themselves.

An enslaved man’s health “is improved by his transportation and enslavement,” wrote Cobb in “An Examination of the Negro Law of Slavery,” adding that “it was in slavery that he reached his greatest development.”

Cobb published his book on the benefits of slavery in 1858. Four years later, after years of work under Cobb’s direction, the Georgia Code was passed.

Although a three-person commission was drafted to codify Georgian laws, the end product was so credited to Cobb that the Georgian Code was often referred to as the “Cobb Code”.

Timothy Floyd, a professor of law at Mercer University School of Law, described Cobb as “the primary author of the Georgia Code,” including the Citizen’s Arrest Act, “almost exactly” as it is today.

The new laws came into effect in Georgia when the Declaration of Emancipation came into effect. Thousands of enslaved people fled their abductors in Georgia in search of Union forces to protect them.

While Floyd said there is no way of knowing whether the Citizen’s Arrest Act was passed precisely to protect slave populations: “I think there is absolutely no leap to assume that it was in the minds of the members of the legislature who voted for it Statute.”

Just as brutally, Floyd described Georgia’s lynching story, which began immediately after the civil war and up until the mid-20th century, as “the most important thing about this law and the history of Georgia since the 1860s”.

To the point of professor, the Southern Center for Human Rights has documented 589 known lynchings in Georgia in the 70 years after the end of the civil war, when mobs of white citizens captured and killed black people, often under the guise of stopping an illegal act.

Many named Ahmaud Arbery’s killing a modern day lynching. If something good comes out of this tragedy, even 156 years after the overthrow of the Confederation, the citizen’s detention law may fall for good.

It’s proof that the future in Georgia doesn’t have to look like the past, which is a reality even in the Cobb family.

Almost 100 years after Thomas RR Cobb’s death fighting for the Confederation, his great-grandson Charles L. Weltner was elected to Congress in 1963 to represent Georgia’s 5th Congress District.

The next year, Weltner was the only member of Congress from the deep south to vote for the landmark 1964 Civil Rights Act.

“I would like to urge that we now continue at home with the unfinished business of building a new south,” he said on the floor of the house. “We must not stay tied to another lost cause forever.”

Weltner lost his seat in Congress in 1966 and was punished by voters for giving up the state’s political establishment at the time. But within 20 years, John Lewis would win the same seat in Congress and stay there until he died.

When Governor Kemp made his announcement at the Capitol on Wednesday, Rep. Calvin Smyre, the dean of Georgia House, supported the bill.

Smyre had promised Ahmaud Arbery’s mother that she would work to change the arrest law of the citizen behind which the local prosecutor was hiding.

“Sometimes when you’re in a reflection mode, you look back and say, ‘How didn’t we do this before?'” Smyre said of the law he called “archaic”.

“For me you just have to keep going,” he said. “Just keep climbing. Sometimes that’s all we can do. “