I-TEAM: SC lawmaker looks to end citizen's arrest in Palmetto State

A law on the books for more than a century is coming under scrutiny after the killing of an...
A law on the books for more than a century is coming under scrutiny after the killing of an unarmed black man in coastal Georgia. (Source: WRDW)(WRDW)
Published: May. 14, 2020 at 4:27 PM EDT
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Thursday, May 14, 2020

News 12 at 6 o'clock/NBC at 7

COLUMBIA, SC (WRDW/WAGT) -- A law on the books for more than a century is coming under scrutiny after the killing of an unarmed black man in coastal Georgia.

Citizen’s arrest is being used as a defense by the men accused of killing Ahmaud Arbery in February.

Now some lawmakers say it’s time for the South to get rid of the Civil War-era statute.

Citizen’s arrest laws allow people to make an arrest when they see a crime committed. In some states like South Carolina, citizens can make an arrest over just the suspicion of a crime being committed.

Now, the Arbery shooting has some asking: should it be on the books at all?

Cellphone video captured the moment Gregory and Travis McMichael confronted Arbery, who was jogging. The video shows a brief confrontation before hearing the sound of gunshots.

The video has sparked outrage across America and in South Carolina’s statehouse.

“It’s sad, it makes you wonder when is enough?” Rep. Justin Bamberg said.

Bamberg believes now is the time to end citizen arrest. According to investigators, the McMichaels confronted Arbery because they thought he looked like someone who had been breaking into houses.

Arbery was unarmed, and no evidence has surfaced that he was committing any crime that day.

“Citizen’s arrest in South Carolina or anywhere really is a statute that empowers citizens to take action when they have either viewed a felony being committed, i.e. I see someone rob someone or I think someone is about to commit a felony," Bamberg explained.

Citizen’s arrest laws go back more than 100 years ago.

“You might have had one sheriff and one deputy, so you needed citizens to help police communities it’s a lot different now," Bamberg said.

The laws also came about during a very dark time in our nation’s history.

“A lot of people don’t know the history of it," Bamberg continued. "Our particular statute in South Carolina was enacted in 1866 or somewhere around there, you know, what was going on back then right?”

This week, Bamberg introduced a bill that would completely abolish the statute in South Carolina.

“Ours is a lot broader than Georgia’s. In South Carolina, for example, you have an outhouse or a shed or something and see someone walking around it at night," Bamberg explained. "You have the suspension they may be about to steal something you are allowed to restrain them by any means necessary including killing them whether they are committing a crime or not.”

And he says getting rid of citizen’s arrest would not mean our rights would go away.

“Citizens would still have the right to use self-defense for themselves, their family, their home," he said. "They would still have the right to come to the defense of others but they just can’t run around and play police.”

“You can still protect yourself and others but you can’t do what the McMichael’s did to Ahmaud Arbery," Bamberg said.

This is the second piece of legislation that addresses citizen’s arrest in the state. Bamberg hopes to debate his bill on the floor of the House of Representatives next legislative session.

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