Georgia lawmaker promotes changes in citizen’s arrest law on 1-year anniversary of Arbery’s death

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SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) – It was February 23, 2020, when a young African American man went for a jog, according to his family. But 25-year-old Ahmaud Arbery never made it back home.

Arbery died after being shot three times after he was chased by two, then three white men through a neighborhood in Brunswick.

The suspects, Gregory McMichael and his son Travis, along with William “Roddie” Bryan, indicated to authorities they thought Arbery was a burglary suspect and they were trying to detain him. None of the men saw the reported break-in and or burglary and none called the police.

The McMichaels told authorities that there had been a scuffle as Arbery tried to grab Travis’ weapon after Travis exited his pickup with the weapon in hand.

No charges were initially filed, but the McMichaels and Bryan were later charged with Arbery’s murder after a video (taken by Bryan) of part of the chase was released. All three have pled not guilty and are awaiting trial.

Tuesday, Arbery’s family honored the young man whose case was publicized nationwide.

In this image from video posted on Twitter Tuesday, May 5, 2020, Ahmaud Arbery stumbles and falls to the ground after being shot as Travis McMichael stands by holding a shotgun in a neighborhood outside Brunswick, Ga., on Feb. 23, 2020. (Twitter via AP)

It resulted in demonstrations for change, and in June of 2020, the legislature passed a hate crimes law. Before that, Georgia had been one of only four states without such a law.

State Rep. Carl Gilliard, a Democrat from Garden City, says there’s still more to do. He has been committed to repealing the existing citizen’s arrest law after suspects reportedly cited the law as justification for pursuing Arbery.

Gilliard says the existing law was passed in 1863.

“This was a vicious law that basically gave people the legal right to lynch Black folks,” said Gilliard. “The clause in that law originally said they could hold someone up to 48 hours and in 1863, a lot could happen in 48 hours.”

“Fast forward to where Ahmaud Arbery is jogging through a community,” he continued, “and it’s a detriment that individuals would use the citizen’s arrest law for a defense after they openly murdered someone in public and on video.”

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, right, bumps fists with Democratic state Rep. Carl Gilliard of Garden City on Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2021, at the state Capitol in Atlanta. The Republican Kemp announced a plan to abolish Georgia’s citizen’s arrest law, partly blamed in the 2020 shooting death of Ahmaud Arbery near Brunswick, Ga. (AP Photo/Jeff Amy)

That’s why Gilliard says the state needs to move forward and repeal the old law and replace it with one that makes more sense for the times.

“It’s repealing the old law in terms of as a citizen you should not just be able to arrest someone instead of calling 911,” said Gilliard.

The bill has the support of Gov. Brian Kemp, and Gilliard is hopeful it will not only pass but be considered one of the more important pieces of legislation this year.

“This time last year, we were dealing with the murder, and for months there have been all the initial issues of getting this bill underway and submitting it,” he said.

“And to see it come forth now where it looks like it will actually go to the House and Senate,” Gilliard said, “it means that maybe his life has not gone in vain.”

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