After Arbery’s death, it was discovered that Georgia police actually encouraged former prosecutorial investigator Gregory McMichael to play pretend cop for the neighborhood. McMichael, his son Travis, and William Bryan—who recorded moments leading up to Arbery’s shooting death—face murder charges and a federal lawsuit seeking in excess of $1 million in Arbery’s death. If House Bill 479, which passed in a 173-0 state House vote on Monday, were in effect at the time of Arbery’s death, it would have provided his accused killers little legal protection. Existing law allows for citizens to act as police when they suspect a crime has been committed and no law enforcement officers are around to respond. The law, however, came into question when prosecutors allegedly used it as justification not to charge Arbery’s accused killers. The McMichaels went free for 74 days after Arbery’s death, and they were only arrested when the case picked up national attention from the press. The offices of both district attorneys in Brunswick and Waycross are being investigated for “possible prosecutorial misconduct” in the case, according to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.
Brunswick District Attorney Jackie Johnson recused herself from the case because Gregory McMichael used to work as an investigator in her office, but she also involved Waycross Judicial Circuit District Attorney George Barnhill to act in her stead. His son worked in the same office. Barnhill wrote in his eventual recusal letter that the Arbery family “are not strangers to the local criminal justice system,” according to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “From best we can tell, Ahmauds [sic] older brother has gone to prison in the past and is currently in the Glynn jail, without bond, awaiting new felony prosecution,” Barnhill added. “It also appears a cousin has been prosecuted by DA Johnson’s office.”
The high-profile case reeking of alleged corruption served as the perfect opportunity for Republican Gov. Brian Kemp to capitalize politically during his failure of a first term. He said, according to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, repealing the law “strikes a critical balance between protecting the lives and livelihoods of our families, our friends and our neighbors, and preventing rogue vigilantism from threatening the security and God-given potential of all Georgians.”
Georgia Rep. Nikema Williams, who leads the Democratic Party of Georgia, thanked Arbery’s family, activists, and House Democrats for fighting for the repeal. “It shouldn’t have taken Ahmaud’s death to finally fix this archaic, racist law — but today’s vote nonetheless brings us closer to justice,” Williams said. “We must keep marching forward in our ongoing work to remember Ahmaud, fight for justice, and carry on his legacy.”
Marissa Dodson, public policy director at the Southern Center for Human Rights, has been working with the nonprofit for almost a year to roll back the law. Dodson told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution it “has had a central role in perpetuating anti-Black vigilante violence both recently and historically.” She said in a statement on Monday: “Today, 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.”