SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) State Representative Carl Gilliard, a democrat from Garden City had waited for almost a year and a half to hear the word that a hate crimes bill had passed the Georgia Legislature.
On Tuesday, it happened. In March of 2018, the House had passed a hate crimes but it had languished in the Senate. Gilliard believes the publicity about the death of Ahmaud Arbery was the catalyst to move the bill along. Arbery was a young African American man who was shot and in Brunswick after being pursued by two white men who said they thought he was a burglary suspect.
“We have to say that we are too busy in Georgia for hate,” said Gilliard. “I know from personal experience that this bill means a lot to a lot of people.”
House Bill 476 provided for enhanced penalties for anyone who may commit violence or property damage against another based on inherent qualities such as “race, religion, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, gender, mental disability or physical disability.”
Speaker of the House David Ralston was credited with helping to push passage this session. On Tuesday, after the Senate approved HB 426, it returned to the Senate for a final vote. It passed overwhelmingly on a vote of 127 to 38. Ralston said to House members, “”Today we have said that we will not be defined by a senseless act of evil and by the murder of Ahmaud Arbery but that our Georgia is better than this.”
Gilliard told News 3 there was “not a dry eye in the House or the Senate Chamber, so people knew that it was a defining moment for Georgia.”
Gilliard also said this has personal implications for his family. “In 1957 and 1968, I lost two brothers in Pembroke, Georgia. One was mutilated and one was run off the side of the road,” he said.
Gilliard was not born in 1957 when the first murder took place and was just five years old in 1968 when his second brother was killed. “They were older brothers but I remember the toll it took on my mother and my family. You think about families like the Arbery family that have been crying out and asking us to do something.”
Gilliard believes the time is now to do what’s right and says the vast majority of lawmakers on both the House and Senate side felt the same. The bill must now go to Governor Brian Kemp who will have to sign it into law.