ATLANTA — Gov. Brian Kemp wants to repeal Georgia’s Civil War-era citizen’s arrest law.
Lawmakers and civil rights activists have called for reform of the statute since a Georgia prosecutor used it as justification for not seeking criminal charges in the shooting death of Ahmaud Arbery — a case that garnered national attention last year when an unarmed Black man was chased down and shot by three white men in Brunswick, Ga.
Flanked by lawmakers from both parties, Kemp said his legislative proposal would “close dangerous loopholes that could be used to justify future acts of vigilantism.”
"I believe it is time for Georgia to take another step toward a better, safer and more just future for our state,” the Republican governor said. “... This bill repeals the current Civil War-era statute, to prevent the terrible consequences of a vague and outdated law.”
The bill clarifies when business owners, security officers, private investigators, weight inspectors and off-duty law enforcement officers outside of their jurisdiction can “reasonably” detain an individual when they have knowledge that a crime has been committed.
The legislation does not "undermine or infringe" on Georgians' right to defend themselves or their property, Kemp added.
Last summer, like many cities across the nation, Atlanta was the scene of protests against racial violence and city leaders called for Georgia lawmakers to do more to update the state's criminal justice laws.
The outcry sparked the bipartisan passage of a hate crime bill — after more than a decade without one on the books — but other reforms, such as changes to the citizen’s arrest statute, didn’t beat the clock before the session came to an end.
In his State of the State address last month, Kemp called the statute an "antiquated law that is ripe for abuse and enables sinister, evil motives.”
This week, Kemp noted the significance of the bill’s bipartisan support. He was joined by Dean Calvin Smyre — who championed the hate crimes legislation — and members of the Glynn County delegation who represent Brunswick.
“In a national political climate where it often seems as if no one agrees on anything,” he said, "I'm proud to say the wide-reaching bipartisan group of individuals you see here today behind me supports this bill.”
Republican leaders of both the House and the Senate have agreed there’s an “appetite” for change to the 150-year-old statute and Georgians expect it this session.