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Taking a closer look at the citizen’s arrest repeal in the Peach State

Updated: May. 17, 2021 at 8:13 AM EDT
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ALBANY, Ga. (WALB) - People can no longer arrest other people for suspected crimes in the state of Georgia. But criminal justice advocates say there is still more work to be done.

Gov. Brian Kemp repealed the citizen’s arrest law last week with bipartisan support.

It comes after the death of Ahmaud Arbery, a Black man with family toes to the CSRA who was chased down and killed while jogging in Glynn County. Three white men are charged in connection to his death. They suspected Arbery committed a crime.

But it’s not as cut-and-dry as it may sound. There are still several ways a citizen can detain another citizen.

Kemp repealed the old law last Monday. Perhaps the biggest change is the specific clarification that the use of deadly force is illegal, except in cases of self-defense.

“This bill makes Georgia the first in the country to repeal its citizen’s arrest statute. Today, we are repealing a Civil War-era law ripe for abuse, with language that balances the sacred right to self-defense of a person and property,” Kemp said.

James Pratt is a criminal justice Instructor at Albany State University and a board member of the activist group, SOWEGA Rising.

“I think it’s very significant because it’s an antiquated law. It came on the scene in 1863, which, as we know, is throughout the moment of the fight for racial justice and the liberation of black people in this country.”

Owners of businesses can still detain people if they have “reasonable grounds to believe” that person has committed or tried to commit a crime.

“It empowers people to arrest and put property over individual lives. It allows shopkeepers to arrest people for theft or the perception of theft. Or dining or dashing, and other shop owners on the perception, the mere perception.”

Pratt says implicit bias and racism still make minorities targets.

The language in the new legislation uses the term “detain” over “arrest.”

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