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COLUMN: Reform another law that may have cost Arbery his life

Last year, the Democrats and Republicans in the Georgia General Assembly, along with Gov. Brian Kemp and Lt. Governor Geoff Duncan, united to make a positive change, and finally pass a hate crimes law, joining the vast majority of states with such a law. These groups are poised to make another positive change, but they’ll need your help to see it through.

This week, the Georgia House of Representatives voted 173-0 for House Bill 479, a law which would repeal a “citizen’s arrest law” from the Civil War Era. Kemp has declared his public support for the new bill. But if it’s bottled up in the Senate, it’ll be another year of Georgians having to worry about some untrained triggered members of the public choosing to decide how best to use their weapons to detain “suspects,” the kind of trouble that might have led to Ahmaud Arbery’s unfortunate death.

At the height of the Civil War, Georgia wrote a law that “has allowed a private citizen to make an arrest if a crime is committed in the person’s presence ‘or within their immediate knowledge,’” as CBS reported.

This law, initially used to enable vigilantes to pounce on escaped slaves, was employed to justify numerous Reconstruction-era lynchings, and beyond.

That’s what GOP Rep. sponsor Bert Reeves, a Marietta Republican, stated on record in the CBS article.

After I wrote articles supporting the passage of Georgia’s Hate Crime Law last year, a critic sent me an article opposing the reform of this “Citizens’ Arrest” bill. 

The author claimed the law didn’t originate in Georgia during the Civil War, but from the “1285 Statute of Winchester.”

It doesn’t matter when the law passed, however. A bad law is bad law. It doesn’t matter who came up with it first.

The article also admitted that the repeal of the “citizens’ arrest” law would not infringe upon the rights of Georgians to protect themselves.  In fact, CBS confirmed that Georgia’s “Stand Your Ground Law” would still apply.

People can still protect themselves from criminals. They just can’t to the extra-judicial arrests.

“It would still allow store employees to detain people they believe stole something, let restaurant employees detain people who try to leave without paying for a mal, let licensed security guards and private detectives detain people,” CBS writes.

For this critic, I emailed him a story from June of 2020, where a Colorado man held two roofing salesmen (one was a Colorado State University football player), at gunpoint, knelt on the neck of one who was African-American and justified his deadly threats by claiming he arrested them because “they were Antifa.” My critic responded to this story with “So, I’m failing to see your point here, John.”

The point is that we don’t need a number of people deciding what the law is for themselves, and whether they have the right to point guns at people just because they think they’re a criminal, or even “Antifa.”

Without such a reform, we can expect many such tragedies and terrifying occurrences to occur in the Peach State. If you support repealing this law, contact your member of the Georgia Senate here (Georgia General Assembly – Senate (ga.gov)).