News

Ahmaud Arbery’s Killing May Finally Get a Hate Crime Law Passed in Georgia

The state hasn't had a statute on the books in 16 years, and now, legislators are considering two bills.
June 17, 2020, 6:20pm
People sit during a moment of silence as they attend a Black Lives Matter protest in the Venice Beach area of Los Angeles Friday, June 12, 2020. The sign shows from left: Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)​

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Georgia is one of four states that doesn’t have a hate crime law. But that might change after a group of white men with guns chased down, shot and killed Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year-old Black man whose family said he was out doing what he loved: jogging.

On Wednesday, Georgia’s Lt. Gov Geoff Duncan, a Republican, introduced the second piece of a legislation this year that would create a statewide hate crime charge.

“We must deliver a strong, meaningful bill that leaves no doubt that Georgians will not tolerate hate,” Duncan said at a news conference. “The tragic murder of Ahmaud Arbery in Brunswick has brought the need for this change to the forefront of Georgians’ minds. When the shooter stood over the body of an unarmed man and called him a racial slur, that’s clear evidence, to me and to all Georgians, of a hate crime.”

Duncan’s bill would create a separate “bias-motivated” charge for crimes motivated by age, race, ethnicity, sex, sexual orientation, disability, and homelessness. He also proposes additional protected groups: military status, “being involved or having been involved in civil rights activities” and “culture” which refers to the “customary beliefs, social norms and material traits of a racial, ethnic, religious, or social group.” (Notably missing is “gender identity”; 24 states plus Washington D.C. have hate crime laws that explicitly contain protections for transgender people).

The other hate crime bill in process in the state is leftover from last year, after it stalled in the Senate. Georgia's legislative session opened Monday with bipartisan calls to finally pass the legislation in the wake of Arbery’s death in February.

While Arbery’s friends and family contend that he was out jogging in the Satilla Shores neighborhood, the men who are now facing murder charges for his death claimed that they thought he had committed burglaries in the area and intended to stop him. Travis McMichael, 34, says he shot Arbery out of self-defense.

“All Georgians were shocked by the senseless murder of Ahmaud Arbery, who was hunted like an animal and shot with a shotgun at point blank range,” said House Speaker David Ralton, a Republican.

Unlike Duncan’s proposal, the House bill doesn’t create a separate charge for bias-related crimes. It adds enhancement penalties, which means someone might receive a stiffer sentence if they committed a crime that was motivated by bias.

Duncan’s bill also goes beyond the creation of a hate crime law, unlike the House legislation. It would mandate data collection on hate crimes, allow victims of hate crimes to file civil lawsuits, and allocate funding to train law enforcement how to appropriately investigate and prosecute hate crimes.

If either bill passes, it’d be the first time that Georgia had a hate crime law on the books in 16 years. Georgia’s Supreme Court struck down the hate crime law in 2004 for being “unconstitutionally vague.”

The other three states without hate crime laws are Arkansas, South Carolina, and Wyoming.

Cover: People sit during a moment of silence as they attend a Black Lives Matter protest in the Venice Beach area of Los Angeles Friday, June 12, 2020. The sign shows from left: Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

This article originally appeared on VICE US.