When Ahmaud Arbery was shot down in the streets of Brunswick last year after having been chased by three white men, two of those men unbelievably claimed they were simply conducting a lawful citizen’s arrest.
Georgia lawmakers have now put an end to that kind of defense.
Gov. Brian Kemp led the way as the General Assembly did away with the state's Jim Crow era citizen's arrest law.
Quite simply, there is no place for what is erroneously called vigilante justice in Georgia, or anywhere else.
Vigilantism is injustice, not justice.
What happened in Brunswick last year when Arbery was gunned down in the street must not happen again.
Defending our homes and our families if invaded by an intruder is one thing, but that is a far cry from hunting someone down and killing them.
It was a rare bipartisan effort for Georgia lawmakers, at the urging of civil rights champions, to bring about this kind of social justice reform in our state.
It is just one step in a long journey, but it is at least a step in the right direction.
There is still a lot of work to be done in Georgia and across the nation.
Why did it take the death of a young man, an egregious act of injustice, to spur us to action and, in this case, legislation?
Gov. Kemp had said he wanted to “close dangerous loopholes that could be used to justify future acts of vigilantism.”
To be clear, there was far more than some obscure loophole that needed to be closed.
It was unfathomable that Georgia had laws on the books which emboldened anyone to think they could take the law into their own hands and enact their own warped sense of justice, which shocked the nation.
When you think about it, it was only about a year ago — amidst national unrest, protests in the streets across the nation and cries for social justice — that our state passed a hate crimes bill — after more than a decade without one.
Now, a year later abolishing the citizen’s arrest law is just another step in this very long journey toward dismantling the institutional, systemic racism that has long plagued our state and communities of color.
Republican Gov. Kemp had called the old citizen’s arrest law an “antiquated law that is ripe for abuse and enables sinister, evil motives.”
It was good to see bipartisan support with Republicans and Democrats agreeing the 150-year-old statute had be done away with, but this in no way means their work is done.
It has only just begun.
Jim Zachary is editor of The Valdosta Daily Times, CNHI’s director of newsroom training and development and president-emeritus of the Georgia First Amendment Foundation.