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Civil Rights Organizations Commend Governor Kemp’s Dedication to Repealing Citizen’s Arrest

Today, Governor Kemp announced proposed legislation that would repeal Georgia’s Citizen’s Arrest statute. The bill would eliminate the ability for a private citizen (with some exceptions) to conduct arrests of other private citizens in the state of Georgia.

The Georgia NAACP and SCHR commend Governor Kemp for maintaining his commitment to being the first state in the nation to repeal its Citizen’s Arrest statute, a practice that is rooted in a history of racism and dehumanization.

Citizen’s Arrest laws date back to medieval England and the United States’ colonial period, when it could take days for law enforcement to arrive at a crime scene, and it was necessary for private citizens to help detain suspects while law enforcement traveled long distances. Now, 911 is widely available and police/first responders generally respond within minutes. 

The racist implications of the law also cannot be ignored.

Georgia’s own citizen’s arrest law passed in 1863, in the midst of the Civil War. Mercer University Law School Professor Tim Floyd has stated that while it is unclear why Georgia’s citizen’s arrest was created, their application followed a clear pattern: “Often during the lynching era, these white mobs would claim that they were exercising the right of citizen’s arrest.” And there are multiple examples of just that: on January 22, 1912, four Black people in Hamilton, Georgia –three men and a woman–were citizen’s arrested and lynched, accused of killing a white planter who was sexually abusing Black girls and women. On July 25, 1946, two Black couples were dragged from their car at Moore’s Ford in Walton County, Georgia, and shot about sixty times by a mob of white men making a “citizen’s arrest.” No one was ever charged with their murders.

The proposed legislation to repeal Georgia’s current statute, sponsored by State Representative Bert Reeves, eliminates the ability for a private citizen – except security, weight inspectors and off-duty law enforcement – to arrest another private citizen. “It is high time to repeal Georgia’s Citizen’s Arrest law,” says Marissa Dodson, Public Policy Director at SCHR. “It is unnecessary, dangerous, and has held a central role in perpetuating anti-Black vigilante violence both recently and historically.”

The danger inherent to Georgia’s Citizen’s Arrest law was made clear after the murder of Ahmaud Arbery. The law impeded justice in Mr. Arbery’s case for months —  the statute was cited by one of the assigned prosecutor’s on Mr. Arbery’s case as the rationale for why the men who killed Mr. Arbery didn’t face arrest or prosecution for over 8 weeks. 

“As we approach the first anniversary of Ahmaud’s death, the JustGeorgia Coalition has been able to work with legislators and state officials to create a safer state for all Georgians, which includes, but is not limited to, repealing Citizen’s Arrest. It will continue pushing forward necessary reforms, but this is a great first step to a more just Georgia.” says Rev. James Woodall, State President of the Georgia NAACP.