Georgia lawmakers to take up hate crime law, repeal of citizen’s arrest

Murder of Ahmaud Arbery sparks cries for changes to state laws

GLYNN COUNTY, Ga. – Georgia state lawmakers are heading back to the Capitol on Monday after being away for three months because of COVID-19.

Only 11 working days remain beginning Monday. Among legislation most likely to pass in the wake of the controversial handling of Ahmaud Arbery’s death investigation is a hate crimes bill.

The measure would mandate harsher sentences for anyone convicted of targeting a victim based on race, color, religion, gender, national origin, sexual orientation, or mental or physical disability.

Georgia is one of four states without a hate crime law.

In an open video published by the New York Times, Arbery’s mother, Wanda Cooper-Jones, called for Georgia lawmakers to pass the hate crime law.

It's one of two issues linked to Arbery's murder that lawmakers are set to take up as protesters plan to greet the returning Georgia General Assembly, seeking an end to police brutality and changes to the state's criminal justice system.

Lawmakers will also introduce a bill that would repeal Georgia’s citizen’s arrest law, which has been in place since the Civil War.

Waycross District Attorney George Barnhill cited that law in a letter to the Glynn County Police Department in which he said he saw no reason to charge Travis and Greg McMichael with Arbery's killing.

Both men -- and a third who filmed the fatal shooting -- are now charged with murder in the death of the 25-year-old who was killed in February while running through a Glynn County neighborhood.

Arbery's murder spurred frustration and calls for action as it shined a spotlight on both the citizen's arrest law and the lack of a hate crime law in the state.

The citizen's arrest law says a private citizen "... 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.”

While the bill to repeal the citizen's arrest law hasn't been formally introduced, it’s expected to have bipartisan support.

Lawmakers could also take up a bill that would put a referendum on this year’s ballot, calling for the Glynn County Board of Commissioners to abolish the Glynn County Police Department. That bill was filed in January before Arbery was killed.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

About the Authors: