Georgia Governor Brian Kemp Monday signed a bill that repeals an 1863 civil war-era statute, one year after Ahmaud Arbery was fatally shot.
The bill amends Title 17 of the Official Code of Georgia Annotated, which was enacted to allow white citizens to arrest anyone they suspected of committing a crime and mainly used to capture slaves who were fleeing north. The law was frequently used during the lynching era to justify mob violence against Black people. The legislation came under scrutiny early last year after it was cited by a prosecutor to justify not charging three white men involved in the shooting of Arbery. He was shot while running through his neighborhood on the Georgia coast in February 2020 after the men claimed they thought he was a burglar.
Under the repeal of the statute, citizens who are mere bystanders or witnesses do not have the right to detain people. It restricts the use of deadly force to self-protection, protecting a home, or preventing a “forcible felony.” However, the amendment still allows officers and investigators to detain someone they believe has committed a crime.
In his press statement, Kemp said, “After the tragic killing of Ahmaud Arbery, we knew that action was needed to ensure an antiquated, Civil-War era statute could not be used to justify rogue vigilantism in the Peach State.”
Arbery’s mother, Wanda Cooper-Jones, said she was thankful and that “the state of Georgia is moving in the right direction passing this particular bill, unfortunately, I had to lose my son to get significant change but I am still thankful.”
The bill makes Georgia the first state to repeal a citizen’s arrest statute.