On Feb. 23, 2020, Ahmaud Arbery went out for a jog along a rural Georgia road.
The 25-year old attended South Georgia Technical College and had trained for a career as an electrician. He stayed in shape by jogging around his neighborhood.
On that day, he ended up dead, dead at the hands of three White residents who said they thought he had burglarized a home that was under construction.
Among the reasons cited for not pushing for prosecution was Georgia’s “citizen’s arrest” statute, which allows citizens to make arrests in cases in which the citizen has “immediate knowledge” of a crime or if they have “reasonable and probable grounds of suspicion” for a felony crime.
The law dates back to 1863, and was designed to allow White citizens the right to capture slaves fleeing to the north. It was used to justify hundreds of lynchings.
It’s an archaic, dangerous, racist law that should have been abolished decades ago.
Georgia officials, in the wake of the Aubrey killing, have moved to remove the law from the books. (Yes, the same lawmakers who voted recently to make it harder for Black people to vote are actually revoking a law that directly targets Black people.)
So why are we talking about it here in New York? Because, believe it or not, New York has a similar statute on the books.
A bill pending in the Legislature, A6054/S3183A, would repeal New York’s citizen’s arrest law.
Right now, New York law allows private individuals to arrest someone without a warrant for any crime at any time of day, according to the bill memo.
Citizens making a citizen’s arrest don’t even need to inform the person of the reason they’re being arrested, and citizens are allowed by law to use “justifiable” physical force to make an arrest.
On top of that, anyone under the age of 16 may be taken into custody by a private person for committing an act that would subject an adult to a similar arrest.
Juveniles do not need to be informed of the reason for being taken into custody, a clear violation of their constitutional rights.
Not only are citizen’s arrests potentially unconstitutional, they place the person conducting the arrest and the subject of the arrest in potential danger.
There’s a reason why we have police and why they receive extensive training (the George Floyd case not withstanding). Police are trained in the legal standards for making an arrest and are trained in how to conduct arrest to mitigate the danger to themselves and the suspects.
There’s no need in this day and age for citizens to take it upon themselves to make arrests. Almost every citizen has at their disposal the ability to call 9-1-1 and have police come and make arrests legally.
It’s time for New York to wipe this outdated, racist and dangerous law off the books.
If Georgia can see the wrong in this law, then certainly New York can.