In a revolutionary action, Georgia has become the first state in the United States of America to repeal the citizen’s arrest law which had been passed in the year of 1863. The law had been initially brought into place to make it possible to capture runaway slaves. For the longest time, it was used to justify the various incidents of lynching of African-Americans. Following this radical action, several states are deliberating on repealing similar laws.
The decision has come about after the death of Ahmaud Arbery, a black man who was shot dead in February 2020 by three people who pursued him as a burglar. Wanda Cooper-Jones, the mother of Arbery, said that she was “thankful, very thankful that the state had decided to abolish the law.” Following the incident, the lawmakers of the state had taken two other major decisions aimed at improving the lives of the black community and other people of colour.
The legislation passed by Governor Brian Kemp will not allow citizens or bystanders to make any more arrests on the grounds that they believe a person committed a crime. The citizen’s arrest law became a concern for debate when prosecutors cited the law to defend Arbery’s killers. The three white men had used the citizen’s arrest law to contend that they were making legitimate use of its provisions. They have been arrested and charged with murder since then. Critics have suggested that the law has been repeatedly used disproportionately by the citizens.
The removal of the citizen’s arrest law however has other clauses attached to it. It will still allow employees of a business, individuals working on other’s property, inspectors amongst others to detain someone if they think a person is likely to have committed a crime. Law enforcement officers also have the right to arrest outside of their jurisdiction under the law. Additionally, if a person does detain another individual, they are expected to bring that person before a law enforcing unit within a ‘reasonable amount of time’ or release the person detained.
Governor Kemp had announced his intention of striking the law from the state’s law in January itself. He made a conclusive statement when he said “Today we are replacing this civil war-era law, ripe for abuse, with language, that balances the sacred right of self-defence of person and property with our shared responsibility to root out injustice and set our state on a better path forward.”
Hate crimes against people of different ethnicity, colour, race are common but decisions such as this can go a long way in creating an inherently equal society. The state of Georgia has started a process inspiring the other states to follow in its step.