SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) – Georgia Lieutenant Gov. Jeff Duncan is now involved in the push to pass hate crime legislation this year, introducing a bill in the state Senate on Wednesday.
Citing the case of Ahmaud Arbery in Brunswick, Duncan said the legislation will “empower communities by giving them the ability to seek a hate crimes charge from a grand jury if local prosecutors don’t.”
Duncan said as a man of faith, he believes we are called to treat others as we would want to be treated.
“I believe this legislation answers that call, and I will work hand in hand with legislators in both parties and in both houses to ensure we get this over the finish line,” the lieutenant governor said. “The eyes of the nation are upon us, and we need to do more than check the box; we must deliver a strong, meaningful bill that leaves no doubt that Georgians will not tolerate hate.”
Arbery, a 25-year-old African American man was jogging in a Brunswick neighborhood when two men who lived in the neighborhood, Gregory McMichael and his son Travis, made a decision to arm themselves and pursue Arbery in their pickup.
The McMichaels, who are white, told authorities they thought Arbery matched the description of a burglary suspect. A third man from the neighborhood, William Bryan, joined the chase in his pickup and ultimately recorded video on his cell phone of an altercation between Arbery and Travis McMichael which resulted in Arbery being shot three times. Arbery was unarmed.
The incident happened in February but the McMichaels were not arrested then. They were charged, along with Bryan, after the Georgia Bureau of Investigation took up the case last month.
Since Arbery’s death has been publicized, renewed calls to pass hate crime legislation have surfaced in Georgia.
While the lieutenant governor is now involved in the new push to pass a bill, the Georgia House passed a bill in 2019. Its author, Republican House member Chuck Efstration from Dacula, told News 3 earlier this week that there is time in this short session to pass the legislation.
“It’s been sitting in the state Senate for over a year and if there’s an interest in sending a clear message that Georgia is no place for hate and that we are no longer going to be on the list of only four states that doesn’t have a hate crimes law on the books, pass House Bill 426,” he said.
Efstration says the House bill had bi-partisan support and passing it is the right thing to do.
“I urge my Senate colleagues to take immediate action,” he said.
Duncan says his bill “builds” on what has been passed in the House. He said his hate crimes measure goes further than simply enhancing the sentence of a violator.
It establishes a separate offense for bias-motivated crimes which he says expands access to justice for victims and still ensures due process for those accused. The bill broadens the classes of victims protected and offers victims the chance to seek civil penalties.
Finally, it mandates that law enforcement officers submit reports in cases of hate crimes to ensure accurate tracking of date statewide.
“The tragic murder of Ahmaud Arbery in Brunswick has brought the need for this change to the forefront of Georgians’ minds,” Duncan said. “When the shooter stood over the body of an unarmed man and called him a racial slur, that’s clear evidence, to me and to all Georgians, of a hate crime. And we have to stand up and say, that’s unacceptable in our state.”
Duncan said that if it were not for the public seeing the Brunswick video, the killers of Ahmaud would have escaped justice.
“A hate crimes law that allows for only prosecutors to press hate crimes charges would not have worked in that case,” he said. “That’s why this version of the bill creates a new avenue for victims to seek a hate crimes charge.”
While there are just about 10 days left now in the session, Duncan says he thinks the bill can be considered soon by the Senate Judiciary Committee. If passed by the Senate, it would then have to go back to the House for approval in that chamber.