Georgia finally repeals Civil War-era citizen’s arrest law after Ahmaud Arbery killing

‘I think the signing of this bill will make people think before they take action into their own hands,’ Arbery’s mother says

Louise Hall
Tuesday 11 May 2021 16:06
The McMichaels are arrested for murder of Ahmaud Arbery

Georgia has officially repealed a Civil War-era citizen’s arrest law following the killing of Ahmaud Arbery in 2020, meaning bystanders or witnesses can largely no longer detain someone in the state.

Governor Brian Kemp signed House Bill 479 on Monday and noted after the signing that the move makes Georgia the first state in the country to repeal its citizen’s arrest statute.

Mr Arbery, a Black man, was 25-years-old when he was pursued and eventually fatally shot while he was out for a jog in a neighborhood near Brunswick just over a year ago.

Greg McMichael and his adult son, Travis McMichael, who are both white, pursued Arbery, suspecting he was a burglar. Travis McMichael shot Mr Arbery while supposedly fearing for his life as they grappled over a shotgun, the McMichaels’ defence lawyers say.

Video footage of the incident filmed by a third man involved in the chase, William “Roddie” Bryan, who is also white, showed Travis McMichael shooting Mr Arbery three times at close range with a shotgun.

“I think the signing of this bill will make people think before they take action into their own hands,” Wanda Cooper-Jones, the mother of Mr Arbery, said upon signing of the bill, according to the Associated Press.

She added: “Unfortunately we had to lose my son in this manner. Had this bill been in place, I think it will protect young men as they are jogging down the street.”

All three men involved in the shooting have been charged with murder and remain jailed without bail. All three have pleaded not guilty.

The repeal bill states that those who are bystanders or witnesses generally no longer have the right to detain people under a citizen's arrest.

Deadly force can’t be used to detain someone unless it’s in self-protection, protecting a home, or preventing a forcible felony.

“Deadly force is only permissible to be used if you are defending yourself or somebody else against a forcible felony or the threat of substantial bodily injury or death,” Rep Bert Reeves, a Republican from the Atlanta suburb of Marietta, previously said.

The Georgia statehouse had previously voted 169-0 to approve changes to the bill made by the state Senate.

Critics of the law argued that it had roots in racism and was previously used to round up suspected escaped slaves and to justify the lynching of Black people in the state.

“Today we are replacing this Civil War-era law, ripe for abuse, with language that balances the sacred right of self-defense of person and property with our shared responsibility to root out injustice and set our state on a better path forward,” Mr Kemp, a Republican, said.

Following the historic civil unrest that followed the death of Mr Arbery and other Black Americans at the hands of white people, some other states are now also considering repealing such laws.

Reporting by the Associated Press