ATLANTA - Ahmaud Arbery’s mother and sister stood next to Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp as he signed a bill that repeals a Civil War-era citizen’s arrest law.
The legislation comes a year after the fatal shooting of Arbery, a Black man pursued by white men who said they suspected him of a burglarizing a house under construction.
"I’m just very, very thankful," said Wanda Cooper-Jones, Arbery’s mother. "Unfortunately I had to lose my son in this manner, but with this bill being in place, I think it will protect young men as they’re jogging down the street."
The state House and Senate passed House Bill 479 by overwhelming margins. Kemp and lawmakers made the bill one of their top priorities after Arbery’s killing.
"So often, we spend time under the gold dome arguing about differences," Gov. Kemp said. "But the outpouring of bipartisan support that this bill received I believe is a testament to the fundamental character of our state."
The outcry over Arbery’s fatal shooting, which was recorded on video by one of the murder defendants, also pushed lawmakers to give Georgia new hate crimes law in 2020, more than 15 years after the state Supreme Court overturned an earlier law.
The law ends the right of people in Georgia to make an arrest if a crime is committed in the person’s presence "or within their immediate knowledge." It still provides for self defense and allows business owners to detain suspected thieves.
Those who had long pushed for the repeal said the law was approved in 1863 to round up escaped slaves and was later used to justify the lynching of African Americans.
The father and son who pursued Arbery — Greg and Travis McMichael — weren’t arrested or charged until the state took over the case more than two months after the shooting. A prosecutor initially assigned to the case had cited Georgia’s citizen’s arrest law to argue that the shooting was justified.
Gregory McMichael (left), his son Travis McMichael and William Bryan (right).
"Ahmaud was the victim of a vigilante-style violence that has no place in our country or in our state," Kemp said.
Defense lawyers said the McMichaels pursued Arbery suspecting he was a burglar, after security cameras had previously recorded him entering a home under construction. They said Travis McMichael shot Arbery while fearing for his life as they grappled over a shotgun.
Video of the fatal encounter was recorded by William "Roddie" Bryan, a neighbor who joined the chase. All three men are charged with murder.
Prosecutors have said Arbery stole nothing and was merely out jogging when the McMichaels and Bryan chased him. They remain jailed without bail.
Issues surrounding citizen’s arrest could be aired in pretrial hearings on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Ahmaud Arbery, 25, was shot and killed while out jogging in a south Georgia neighborhood on Feb. 23, 2020. (Photo provided by family members)
An attorney for Arbery’s family said they plan to drive down to south Georgia for the arraignments in federal court on Tuesday.
Over this past weekend, Arbery would have turned 27.
Cooper-Jones said that and Mothers’ Day were bittersweet reminders of her son’s passing. However, she said she looks at every step toward justice as a gift.
"Last year, on Ahmaud’s birthday, we had just gotten an arrest of the McMichaels, like 24 hours prior," Cooper-Jones said. "I looked at that as a birthday present to Ahmaud. I look at the signing of this bill today as also a birthday present to Ahmaud."
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The Associated Press contributed to this report.