ALBANY — A top Democrat in New York wants to bring an end to citizen’s arrests in the Empire State in honor of Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year-old Black man shot to death while jogging in Georgia one year ago.
Sen. Michael Gianaris (D-Queens) is pitching a bill that would limit how and when private citizens take the law into their own hands.
“Citizen’s arrests are a dangerous and historically abused practice that should not be allowed to continue,” Gianaris said. “It’s past time to end laws like this that have been used by racists to advance their bigoted goals.”
Efforts to repeal are currently underway in Florida, South Carolina and Georgia, where Arbery was killed on Feb. 23, 2020.
Gianaris worked on the legislation with Georgia State Representative Carl Gilliard, a fellow Democrat who penned a similar measure in his home state.
Arbery was out for a jog near Brunswick, Ga., when he was chased down by three white men in a truck and fatally shot. Two of the three men, Gregory McMichael and his son Travis McMichael, claimed to be conducting a citizen’s arrest and acting in self-defense because they believed Arbery was a burglar.
Gilliard first proposed a bill repealing the Peach State’s citizen’s arrest statute last summer. In recent weeks, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, a Republican, has publicly backed efforts to overhaul the law.
“Repealing citizen’s arrest sends a message to Ahmaud Arbery’s family, and all those who are seeking justice,” Gilliard said. “Citizen’s arrest is a historic anachronism, and the time to put it away is upon us. I am pleased to work with Senator Gianaris, and leaders across this country, who are working to do the right thing.”
In New York, citizen’s arrest statues have not been updated since the 1970s. Under current law, residents can legally “arrest another person for an offense ... at any hour of any day or night” and “may use such physical force as is justifiable.”
Citizen’s arrests can be made without a warrant or without even informing a person as to why they are being taken into custody if they resist. Minors can also be held by any private citizen without being informed why.
There is a separate statute permitting property owners, including shopkeepers and landowners, to restrain or “detain” someone whom they believe may have committed or are about to commit a crime on their property.
Gianaris’ bill, being sponsored in the Assembly by Assemblywoman Pamela Hunter (D-Syracuse), would amend state law by abolishing the citizen’s arrest and limiting the use of physical force against someone when they are “reasonably believed to have a committed a felony” or “did in fact commit a felony and is in immediate flight.”
Hunter called the statute as it now stands a “long outdated and unnecessary practice that must be removed from law to prevent future tragedies.”
“Many of those who attempt these arrests have no formal training and needlessly instigate confrontations based on prejudice and misinformation,” she added.