Georgia Democrats plan push to repeal citizen’s arrest, ‘stand your ground’ laws

Rep. Robert Trammell, D-Luthersville, minority leader, speaks during the 2019 legislative session. BOB ANDRES / BANDRES@AJC.COM

Democratic members of the Georgia House on Thursday announced plans to push the state to change its criminal justice statutes, starting with the repeal of its citizen's arrest and "stand your ground" laws.

House Democratic Leader Bob Trammell of Luthersville said the measures will be part of a package of bills they will pursue when lawmakers return to the Capitol on June 15 to complete the legislative session.

Trammell cited the February shooting of Ahmaud Arbery, a black man who was in a Brunswick-area neighborhood when three white men followed, shot and killed him.

The men, father and son Greg and Travis McMichael, and William "Roddie" Bryan, have all been charged with murder and appeared in court Thursday for a probable cause hearing.

At the time of the incident, the McMichaels told police they believed Arbery was a burglar who had been seen at a construction site.

“The citizen’s arrest law is a law that was used by a district attorney in Brunswick to justify the non-arrest of the killers of Ahmaud Arbery,” Trammell said. “More distressingly, existence of the citizen’s arrest law confers with some people in our state the notion that they can take the law into their own hands and with, sadly, deadly and tragic consequences.”

It’s unclear whether any new legislation will be considered this session.

Lawmakers have 11 working days remaining in the session, and the priority is passing a fiscal 2021 budget that will be vastly different than the one they approved before the coronavirus pandemic slowed Georgia’s economy nearly to a halt. Democratic initiatives also rarely gain traction in the Republican-controlled Legislature.

House Speaker David Ralston earlier this week told The Atlanta Journal Constitution that there will be safety precautions in place when lawmakers return to try to avoid the spread of COVID-19 — including not having all the legislators in the chamber for floor debate.

“These 11 days are going to go a lot faster than we even think they’re going to go. It’s a fast-moving train,” the Blue Ridge Republican said. “It’s just not conducive to doing a whole lot of legislation.”

Arbery's death also renewed calls for passage of hate-crimes legislation, something both Ralston and the House Democratic Caucus are pushing the Senate to do. The House narrowly approved House Bill 426 — which would enhance the penalties for those already convicted of a crime if it is determined the action was motivated by hate — in March 2019.

“So today, 454 days later while it sat in the Senate without action, this caucus will forcefully renew the call to the Senate to immediately take up House Bill 426 and pass hate-crimes legislation for Georgia as fast as it can,” Trammell said.

During Thursday’s hearing in Brunswick, GBI officials said Travis McMichael called Arbery a “f------ n-----” shortly after shooting him three times.

The legislative package, which Democrats are calling “Justice for All,” is expected to be introduced next week.

"At every turn Democrats have always stood up and said we need to reform the system, because if we're going to have justice, we have to make sure justice is equally meeted out across the board," said state Rep. James Beverly of Macon, the Democratic Caucus chairman.