Georgia House Passes Overhaul of Civil War-Era Citizen’s Arrest Law

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The Georgia House of Representatives voted unanimously on Monday to repeal the state’s citizen’s arrest law that dates back to the Civil War. The law gained national attention after the fatal shooting of Ahmaud Arbery by three white men last year.

The overhaul is a top priority for Governor Brian Kemp, who told AJC that it “strikes a critical balance between protecting the lives and livelihoods of our families, our friends and our neighbors, and preventing rogue vigilantism from threatening the security and God-given potential of all Georgians.”

The law allows Georgians to arrest anyone they suspect of committing a crime in their presence or “within their immediate knowledge.” Arbery was killed while jogging after Willaim “Roddie” Bryan, and Greg and Travis McMichael mistook him for a burglar. All three were charged with murder, but remain jailed without bond.

“We have an opportunity to honor Ahmaud by shifting the narrative and making the statement that the state of Georgia is committed to the just and fair treatment of every one of its citizens,” Rep. Gloria Frazier told CBS News.

“Ahmaud’s death was not in vain because we’re going to bring change,” said the bill’s chief sponsor, Rep. Bert Reeves ahead of the vote. “Every single one of us has an opportunity to take part in Ahmaud’s legacy.”

The 173-0 vote on House Bill 479 is momentous as a stand against a centuries-old history of racism and white supremacy within the state.

“There were decades of lynchings that took place in Georgia where this law was used as part of that justification,” said Reeves.

House Bill 479 would still allow business employees and security guards to detain people, but repeals citizen’s arrest from bystanders or witnesses. Deadly force may still be used in self-protection, protecting a home, or preventing a forcible felony. However, if a police officer or sheriff’s deputy does not arrive within a reasonable time, the person detained must be released.

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