Civil Rights

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The Georgia legislature on Wednesday banned most arrests by private citizens in a reworking of a citizens arrest law that was cited in the past to justify lynchings.

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, a Republican, is expected to sign the bill, which was passed with bipartisan support, report the New York Times, the Guardian and Georgia Public Broadcasting.

The first version of the law, passed in 1863, enabled white citizens to catch fleeing slaves. Critics condemned the citizens arrest law after the February 2020 killing of Black Georgia jogger Ahmaud Arbery by white men who sought to detain him.

An initial prosecutor who reviewed the case had said the alleged killers should not be held responsible for Arbery’s death because they had probable cause to think that he was a burglary suspect, and they were trying to apprehend him under the law. Someone had reported a man inside a home under construction before the incident.

The bill repeals a section of the law that had allowed arrests by private people who witnessed or learned of a crime or who were apprehending fleeing felony suspects.

The bill still allows business owners to detain people if there is reasonable grounds to think that they were shoplifting. Off-duty police officers are also allowed to detain people under the law, according to Georgia Public Broadcasting.

Timothy Floyd, a professor at the Mercer University School of Law, said the law historically has been cited to justify the killings of Black people, even when the perpetrators were not complying with the law.

“When lynch mobs would execute someone without due process, they would often claim they were exercising their right of citizen’s arrest,” Floyd told the New York Times.