ATLANTA — The devastating video of a 25-year-old Black man being pursued and fatally shot by armed white men in South Georgia spawned nationwide outrage that elicited statewide political change.
Ahmaud Arbery was shot in Brunswick on Feb. 23, 2020. The slaying was captured on cellphone video but didn't gain any significant coverage until months later when it was widely circulated on social media. As more people learned of killing, metro Atlanta residents - and others around the country -- hit the streets to protest the gutwrenching slaying of the young Black man.
Multiple activists, politicians, celebrities, influencers, and athletes spoke out against his death across social media and during protests. Many saying the video was clear and the shooting was "senseless."
Even President Joe Biden echoed those sentiments while he was campaigning.
"The video is clear: Ahmaud Arbery was killed in cold blood. My heart goes out to his family, who deserve justice and deserve it now. It is time for a swift, full, and transparent investigation into his murder," Biden said last year.
On May 7, 2020, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp called the videotaped shooting "absolutely horrific" during a public news conference.
Comedian, activist and influencer, Amanda Seales, melted into tears on the air while filming with her former castmates at "The Real."
"I’m not good. By the time this airs, I hope that something has been done," Seales said through an outburst of tears. "...And they have video of it! They have video of them taking this young man’s life."
Superstar basketball player LeBron James tweeted, "We’re literally hunted EVERYDAY/EVERYTIME we step foot outside the comfort of our homes! Can’t even go for a [expletive] jog man."
The political impact: H.B. 479, citizen’s arrest repeal bill
One of the largest political impacts to come from Arbery's death is the overhaul of the citizen's arrest law in Georgia that's been on the books since 1863.
Two of the three men charged with murder in Arbery’s death claimed they were attempting a citizen’s arrest, suspecting a burglary. All three pleaded not guilty in the case. Prosecutors said Arbery stole nothing and was out jogging when the men pursued him.
On March 8, the Georgia House voted unanimously for H.B. 479, which bars bystanders and witnesses from making arrests. The bill received a sweeping 173-0 vote and was sent to the Senate to become law.
“The House took an important step to protect Black Georgians by voting to repeal the citizens’ arrest statute, an unnecessary law that has been used for more than 150 years to justify anti-Black violence,” said Marissa Dodson, SCHR’s Public Policy Director.
Kemp signed the bill into law on May 10.
"I was proud to sign H.B. 479 to overhaul Georgia's citizen's arrest statute, while also protecting every Georgian's sacred right to defend their person and property," said Kemp. "After the tragic killing of Ahmaud Arbery, we knew that action was needed to ensure an antiquated, Civil-War era statute could not be used to justify rogue vigilantism in the Peach State."
The law, according to the Southern Center for Human Rights, "... clarifies the ability of owners and employees of restaurants, off-duty law enforcement, private security guards, and weight inspectors to briefly detain others in certain limited circumstances."
Mercer University Law School Professor Tim Floyd, told the Southern Center for Human Rights, that the former centuries-old law had clear racial implications. “Often during the lynching era, these white mobs would claim that they were exercising the right of citizen’s arrest.”
Multiple cited incidents that show where these mobs were never charged with murdering multiple Black people after claiming "citizen's arrest."
The political impact: H.B. 426/ Hate Crime Law
The death of Arbery ushered in a landmark hate crime bill into law. That's right -- before the recorded death of the 25-year-old man, Georgia had no hate crime law on the books.
The Peach State was one of only four states without a hate crime law. In most states, a criminal can get extra jail time if an attack is motivated by hatred for the victim’s race, religion, or a variety of other reasons.
At one time, Georgia had a hate crime law. State legislators passed a bill in 2000 that forbid acts that targeted victims due to “bias or prejudice.” The U.S. Supreme Court struck down the law in 2004, ruling that it was too vague.
On June 26, all of that changed when Kemp signed HB. 426.
The current law stated that additional penalties will be imposed for crimes motivated by a victim's race, color, religion, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, gender, or disability.
That law passed the Senate by a 47-6 margin, following the removal of language aimed at protecting police.
Political controversy: H.B. 838/ Police Protection Act
Alongside the passing of the hate crime law, Kemp also signed another bill, H.B. 838, or known as the Police Protection Act, into law on Aug. 5. While this bill had no direct connection to the Arbery case, it caused controversy and prompted push back from groups like the Georgia NAACP.
Activists and critics said the new measure, which provides additional legal protections for police officers, is flawed and goes against the nationwide efforts to demand more police accountability following George Floyd's death in Minneapolis.
“House Bill 838 is a step forward as we work to protect those who are risking their lives to protect us. While some vilify, target, and attack our men and women in uniform for personal or political gain, this legislation is a clear reminder that Georgia is a state that unapologetically backs the blue,” Kemp said during the Wednesday afternoon press conference.
The most significant provision establishes an "offense of bias-motivated intimidation" defined as when someone "maliciously and with the specific intent intimidate(s), harass(es), or terrorize(s) another person because of that person's actual or perceived employment as a first responder."
In plain language, the measure states that if you're found to "intimidate, harass or terrorize" a police officer because they are a police officer, you would be guilty of a bias-motivated crime, or a hate crime.
That particular language is why groups like the Georgia NAACP derisively call it the "Police Hate Crimes Bill."
Those penalized for the crime can face up to one to five years in prison as well as a potential $5,000 fine.
Arbery's mother, Wanda Cooper-Jones, said "H.B. 838 is more dangerous to our community than H.B. 426 is good."