Nearly a year after Ahmaud Arbery was killed by self-appointed law enforcers in Brunswick, Georgia, Gov. Brian Kemp announced legislation on Feb. 16 to repeal and overhaul the state’s citizen’s arrest law, which dates back to the Civil War era. Arbery’s killers have tried to use the statute to justify their actions.
Arbery, 25, was chased down and shot to death in broad daylight while jogging on Feb. 23 by father-and-son duo Gregory and Travis McMichael, along with their friend William Bryant, who recorded the encounter. The trio claimed they thought Arbery was connected to burglaries in their community so they attempted to stop him.
The current language of the statute states: “A private person may arrest an offender if the offense is committed in his presence or within his immediate knowledge. If the offense is a felony and the offender is escaping or attempting to escape, a private person may arrest him upon reasonable and probable grounds of suspicion.”
Kemp said the McDaniels’ attempts to use it to justify Arbery’s murder shows as it is written, the law is problematic. “The horrific killing of Ahmaud Arbery shook the Georgia community to its core. Ahmaud was a victim of vigilante-style violence that has no place in Georgia and some tried to claim they had the protection of an antiquated law that is ripe for abuse,” Kemp said at a news conference at the state’s Capitol.
Joined by bipartisan members of the Georgia Legislature, Kemp said the overhaul was the right thing for them to do as a state.
“Like the anti-hate crimes legislation, Reforming Georgia’s Citizens Arrest Statute is first and foremost about who we are as a state. The killing of Ahmaud and others last year rightfully led to calls for change and meaningful action,” Kemp continued.
The new law will clarify that only specific parties are allowed to make arrests, including police officers, security guards, business owners, etc.
“Law enforcement officers can still perform arrests outside of their jurisdiction when a crime is committed in front of them, in hot pursuit of an offender or when helping fellow officers. This legislation clearly allows business owners to detain people and turn them over to authorities when crimes are committed on their premises,” Kemp said.
Arbery’s mother, Wanda Cooper-Jones, wants to mark the one-year anniversary of his death with a candlelight vigil. She said while Kemp’s announcement proves her son’s death was not in vain, it’s heartbreaking he had to die for the change to come.
“Each day it draws near that day, my heart breaks over and over again.” Cooper-Jones told CBS47. “I look at it as, Ahmaud didn’t die in vain. … Unfortunately, Ahmaud had to lose his life to get change.”