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Overhaul of bill addresses Arbery case
Ahmaud Arbery
Ahmaud Arbery

Yesterday marked the one-year anniversary of the death of Ahmaud Arbery, a young African American, who was allegedly gunned down while jogging through a neighborhood in Brunswick. And just last week, on Feb. 16, Georgia Governor Brian Kemp announced the overhaul of the Citizens Arrest Statute citing Arbery’s murder as an example of abuse of the antiquated law that’s been in place since 1863.

“As you all know on May 5, of last year a viral video shocked the world, “Gov. Kemp said. “The horrific killing of Ahmaud Arbery shook the Georgia community to its very core. And as I’ve said many times since that tragic day, people in every community across our state felt anger, disbelief and a deep sorrow. But none more than Ahmaud’s family and his loved ones. Ahmaud was a victim of vigilante style of violence that has no place in Georgia. Some tried to justify the actions of his killers by claiming they had the protection of an antiquated law that is right for abuse.”

Kemp said his administration made significant reforms to the citizen’s arrest statute to prevent vigilantism and keep communities safe.

This bill seeks to repeal Georgia’s current citizen’s arrest law and to tailor the code to protect the rights and safety of Georgians while eliminating any potential legal loopholes that could be used to justify vigilantism. It clarifies when a citizen, business owner, or law enforcement officer may reasonably detain an individual.

Arbery’s death and the delayed arrest of the three suspects, William Roddie Bryan, Gregory McMichael and Travis McMichael sparked outrage in Glynn County and across the nation. People marched demanding justice and called for changes. The state listened which led to Georgia passing the hate crime bill.

“Last summer, leaders under the Gold Dome took historic, bipartisan action to pass anti-hate crimes legislation and reaffirm that Georgia is a state too great for hate,” Kemp said. “Our effort to overhaul the citizen’s arrest statute builds on that work with a balanced approach to protecting the lives and livelihoods of ourselves, our friends, and our neighbors. In a national political climate where it often seems like no one can agree on anything, I am proud to say this bill has broad, bipartisan support in the General Assembly, our law enforcement community, and among civil rights advocacy groups.”

On Monday Bryan’s attorney, Kevin Gough filed a third motion for bond. The three suspects remain in jail without bond. 

Yesterday, National Civil Rights Attorney Lee Merritt, filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the three men responsible for Ahmaud Arbery’s murder, as well as law enforcement officials and prosecutors responsible for the cover-up and delay of justice, according to a press release from Merritt's office.

The suit claims Arbery was chased down by Travis McMichael, Gregory McMichael and William Bryant in their vehicles. After trapping Ahmaud, Travis McMichael shot him three times at point blank range with a shotgun, killing Ahmaud. 

The suit alleges Glynn County failed to arrest Arbery’s killers and this level of protection continued when District Attorney Jackie Johnson, who knew Gregory McMichael personally, urged law enforcement to not make any arrests before recusing herself. 

The suit further states that when the case was passed to District Attorney George Barnhill of the Waycross Judicial Circuit, Barnhill issued a letter slandering Arbery’s name to justify the murder. Barnhill was also forced to recuse himself due to a personal connection with Gregory McMichael.

“It was only after the public release of video showing Ahmaud’s murder and public outcry that the three men responsible were finally arrested,” the statement read. “There existed a vast conspiracy between law enforcement officials and agencies not only in covering up evidence to arrest Ahmaud’s killers, but also covering up evidence that would directly implicate law enforcement in the murder.”

Merritt and Arbery’s mother, Wanda Cooper, were expected to participate in a candlelight vigil yesterday. 

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