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Last week Georgia lawmakers passed a bill that would remove a Civil War-era law that allowed citizens to arrest one another if they suspected someone of committing a crime. Critics of the law, dating back to 1863, claim that the law has largely been used by White citizens to justify the capture and killing of Black citizens.
Three white men cited the citizen’s arrest law when they chased down and fatally shot Ahmaud Arbery while he was jogging through a Georgia neighborhood. The three men claimed they thought Arbery was a burglary suspect.
Both chambers of the State Legislature voted in favor of HB 479 in a tally of 220-1, with Governor Brian Kemp expected to sign it into law quickly.
Law a relic of the Old South.
“Our overhaul of the Georgia’s citizen’s arrest statute strikes a critical balance by allowing Georgians to protect themselves and their families, while also repealing Civil War-era language in our laws that is ripe for abuse,” Kemp said. “I look forward to signing it into law as we continue to send a clear message that the Peach State will not tolerate sinister acts of vigilantism in our communities.”
Many see the Civil War-era law of citizen’s arrest as a relic of the Old South. It’s been used to incite fear and intimidation into the lives of Black citizens.
“When lynch mobs would execute someone without due process, they would often claim they were exercising their right of citizen’s arrest,” said Timothy Floyd, a professor at Mercer University School of Law in Macon, Ga.
The bill repeals the portion of the law that allows a private person to arrest someone if that person witnessed — or was told about — a crime, or if someone suspected of committing a felony is trying to escape. It still allows employees at businesses, those conducting business on someone else’s property, security officers, private investigators and inspectors at truck scales to detain someone believed to have committed a crime on “reasonable grounds”.