State representative talks about legacy of Arbery verdict and former citizen’s arrest law

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SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) – State Rep. Carl Gilliard says the recent guilty verdicts for Travis and Gregory McMichael and William “Roddie” Bryan in the death of Ahmaud Arbery reinforce the call for change he made last year in the citizen’s arrest law.

“It was a very heartfelt and tearful situation when we not only got a new law passed but when the verdict came back the way it did,” said Gilliard, a Democrat who represents Garden City.

Gilliard led the way to repeal the old citizen’s arrest law which has passed in 1863.

“After the arrests last spring, I went back and looked at the outdated and antiquated law of 1863,” he said, “and when I saw the history of the person (who wrote the law), they actually made a doctrine out of lynching Black folks.”

Gilliard helped to repeal the old law and pass a new one that does not allow citizens to try to arrest or detain other citizens.

“It sends a message that citizens cannot take the law into their own hands,” said Gilliard. “That’s why this verdict for Ahmaud Arbery is so significant, that in Brunswick, Georgia, in Glynn County, that justice came at the hands of Americans.

“There was one African American (on the jury) and the rest were white and that’s a big statement for Georgia.”

Gilliard says it’s a “big statement” because of the legacy left behind by the 1863 law, which was still in effect in 2020 when Arbery was killed.

He pointed out that in 1868, the “Original 33” were elected to state offices. The “Original 33” were the first African Americans to be elected to the state legislature and Gilliard says the majority were African American ministers. But 14 of them would ultimately be lynched.

Gilliard says over the years, many African Americans have been lynched in this state or killed in other ways. He tells a heartbreaking story of two older brothers who died in 1957 and 1968 — one who was murdered and mutilated and another who was forced off the road and died of injuries in the accident.

Both were older siblings he never even met but says “the deaths took a toll on my mother.”

Now, Gilliard says it’s not just about the Arbery verdict but considering the unfortunate and tragic legacy of the past.

“I want to see a new Georgia, and so you’ll hear about this bill that I’m going to propose in this session, the Original 33 Act, and it’s those people who never got justice,” he said.

Gilliard wants more investigation into past violent incidents, saying answers may not be available in many cases but that those who died still deserve the effort of an investigation into their death.

While he wants the past examined, Gilliard also hopes that people of all colors can look at the state of Georgia with more pride.

“The people waited on justice and justice rolled down in Brunswick, Georgia, and cultivated the state of Georgia. The nation was looking at Georgia, and so Georgia answered the call,” said Gilliard.

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