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Kemp signs citizen’s arrest overhaul in Georgia

Georgia enacted a historic piece of legislation Monday, becoming the first state to repeal its citizen’s arrest law.

House Bill 479 was signed into law by Gov. Brian Kemp, making it illegal for most private citizens to detain others.

The measure received unanimous support in the House and overwhelming support in the Senate. It was filed in response to the death of Ahmaud Arbery, who was killed by two residents in Brunswick last year.

“Ahmaud was the victim of vigilante-style violence that has no place in our country or in our state,” Kemp said. “It quickly became clear to me and many other state leaders that we needed to act.”

HB 479 eliminates the right for civilians to arrest other people except for retail business owners and restaurant owners in certain situations. Weight inspectors, licensed private security guards and private investigators can detain someone while on duty, and law enforcement officers can make the arrests outside of their jurisdiction.

The measure has received support from civil rights and legal organizations. Many said the preexisting law dates to before the Civil Rights Era and was used to legally kill and abuse newly freed Black Georgians.

“Georgia’s old citizen arrest law was unnecessary and dangerous,” Georgia Center for Opportunity Vice President of Public Policy Buzz Brockway tweeted Monday.

Waycross prosecutor George Barnhill cited Georgia’s citizen’s arrest law as a reason not to pursue charges last year against the father-and-son duo of Gregory and Travis McMichael after the pair was caught on video following Arbery, who was jogging in a neighborhood near Brunswick. Travis McMichael shot and killed Arbery, a Black man, after a confrontation Feb. 23, 2020.

Some of Arbery’s family members joined Kemp and other state leaders at the state Capitol on Monday for a bill signing ceremony.

“We all know the stroke of a pen cannot bring back what you had lost,” Kemp told Arbery’s mother and sister. “But today, in our Ahmaud’s memory, we commit to taking this step forward together.”

Kemp called the new version of the law “a balance.” The measure allows Georgians to retain their right to protect their home and property. It allows a private person to defend themselves against someone in the home or to “prevent the commission of a forcible felony.”

The Georgia Association of Chiefs of Police, the Georgia NAACP and the American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia did not respond Monday to a request for comment.

This article was originally posted on Kemp signs citizen’s arrest overhaul in Georgia

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