Georgia Governor Signs Bill Repealing Citizen's Arrest Law After Ahmaud Arbery Killing

The overhaul of the Civil War-era law came after prosecutors used it to defend the white men who pursued and shot Ahmaud Arbery, who was Black and on a jog.

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R) signed legislation on Monday repealing an old law that allowed for “citizen’s arrests” in response to the murder of Ahmaud Arbery, a Black man, by three white men last year.

The legislation, House Bill 479, repeals a law from 1863 which broadly allowed residents to detain someone they suspected of a crime.

Under the new legislation, private citizens generally cannot detain others and can only use force if it’s in self-defense or to prevent a “forcible felony” like murder or armed robbery. Business owners can still detain someone who they believe is stealing and must then release them to law enforcement.

Lawmakers in Georgia’s House and Senate overwhelmingly passed the new legislation earlier this year.

At the bill signing Tuesday, Kemp said the new legislation would be “replacing a Civil War-era law ripe for abuse.”

“One year ago a video shocked the world and sickened hearts,” the Republican governor said of the murder of Arbery, who he said was a “victim of vigilante-style violence that has no place in our country or our state.”

Last February, a white father and son, Greg and Travis McMichael, were armed and chased after Arbery, who was jogging in their neighborhood. A third neighbor, William “Roddie” Bryan Jr., also white, joined the pursuit and filmed it. Travis McMichael shot Arbery dead.

A prosecutor later cited the old citizen’s arrest law in defense of the white men, arguing not to charge the men, saying they suspected Arbery of theft.

The Civil War-era law was meant to allow white people to capture slaves who were fleeing and later was used to justify lynchings of Black people.

All three men have been charged with murder by the state and face federal hate crime charges.

Rev. James Woodall, president of the Georgia NAACP, called the bill signing a “huge step forward.”

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