Opinion: Time to overhaul Ga.’s citizen’s arrest law

021621 Atlanta: Governor Brian Kemp announces the overhaul of Georgia’s citizen’s arrest statute at the capitol on Tuesday, Feb 16, 2021, in Atlanta. Dean of the House State Rep. Calvin Smyre is at right.    Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com”

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

021621 Atlanta: Governor Brian Kemp announces the overhaul of Georgia’s citizen’s arrest statute at the capitol on Tuesday, Feb 16, 2021, in Atlanta. Dean of the House State Rep. Calvin Smyre is at right. Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com”

On May 5th, 2020, a viral video shocked the world. The horrific killing of Ahmaud Arbery shook a Georgia community to its very core. We all felt anger, disbelief, and a deep sorrow, but none more than Arbery’s family and loved ones.

Arbery was the victim of a vigilante-style of violence that has no place in our state, and some tried to justify the actions of his killers by claiming they had the protection of an antiquated law that is ripe for abuse.

That is why this week my administration introduced significant reforms to our state’s citizen’s arrest statute to close dangerous loopholes that could be used to justify future acts of vigilantism. Working with legislative leaders and members of both parties, I believe that we can take another step toward a better, safer, and more-just future for our state.

Our bill repeals the current Civil War-era statute in order to prevent the terrible consequences of a vague and outdated law, but then also clarifies when a citizen, business owner, or law enforcement officer may reasonably detain an individual.

03/03/2021 —Marietta, Georgia — Governor Brian Kemp makes remarks after touring a Cobb and Douglass County Public Health Department COVID-19 vaccine drive thru site at Jim Miller Park in Marietta, Wednesday, February 3, 2021. Gov. Brian Kemp said Wednesday that 1 million Georgians have now received a COVID-19 vaccine shot, which he called “an encouraging milestone.” But he said the state can’t ramp up for mass vaccinations because it doesn’t have enough vaccine. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

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Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

One of the most fundamental rights of any citizen is the right to defend themselves or others. This legislation does not undermine or infringe on that sacred protection. Georgians can still defend themselves and their homes. Private business owners can still reasonably detain lawbreakers, and our heroes in law enforcement remain able to keep our communities safe, day or night.

For example: law enforcement officers may continue to perform arrests outside of their jurisdictions when a crime is committed in front of them, when they are in hot pursuit of an offender, or when assisting fellow officers in their duties.

This legislation also clearly allows business owners and their employees to detain individuals and turn them over to the authorities when crimes are committed on their premises – whether it be theft, attempts to “dine and dash,” or other acts of lawlessness – and it provides civil immunity to those who do so in accordance with the law.

Our bill to overhaul the citizen’s arrest statute is a balanced approach in protecting the lives and livelihoods of ourselves, friends, and neighbors, while also preventing rogue vigilantism from threatening the security and God-given potential of all Georgians.

Last year, Georgia made history by passing anti-hate crimes legislation on a bipartisan basis to send a clear message that our state is too great for hate.

Thanks to the hard work and determination of Lt. Gov. Duncan, House Speaker Ralston, Dean of the House Rep. Calvin Smyre, Rep. Chuck Efstration, Sen. Bill Cowsert, Sen. Harold Jones, and other legislative leaders, we came together – despite political differences – and did what was right.

That bipartisan accomplishment was certainly an important leap forward, but we know there is still more important work to be done.

Election year or not, there is no shortage of political preferences to be debated under the Gold Dome. However, 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, in our law enforcement community, and with civil rights advocacy groups.

Like the anti-hate crimes legislation, reforming Georgia’s citizen’s arrest statute is first and foremost about who we are as a state.

In Georgia, we value the life of our neighbor – regardless of their race, creed, or culture. We support the local businesses that are the backbone of our communities. We back the brave men and women in law enforcement. We stand up and speak out for what is right.

On the campaign trail, I told people I would put hardworking Georgians first – ahead of the status quo or what was politically convenient. As governor, I have worked across the aisle to tackle the tough issues and ensure a better, brighter future for our state.

I believe Republicans and Democrats can rise to the challenge again, put aside partisan politics, and support a balanced approach to overhauling Georgia’s citizen’s arrest law.

Brian P. Kemp is Georgia’s governor.