High-ranking Georgia lawmaker says ‘now is the time’ to act on hate crimes amid Ahmaud Arbery shooting

On the heels of the public outcry about the Ahmaud Arbery shooting, another key Georgia lawmaker is calling for hate crimes laws to be passed when the state legislature returns to work.

State Representative Calvin Smyre a democrat from Columbus who is also the Dean of the Georgia House of Representatives, today issued the following statement regarding recent efforts to push for the final passage House Bill 426, also known as the “Georgia Hate Crimes Act:”

“In light of what has transpired in Brunswick and the horrific video showing of the death of Ahmaud Arbery, House Bill 426 will be a top priority for me when we return for the conclusion of the 2020 legislative session. While we will demand and expect fairness and integrity going forward in the judicial process that follows, what happened to Ahmaud Arbery has become too much of a norm in today’s society; these circumstances have to be corrected and stopped, for we know that more crimes of hate will follow.

“It is time for Georgia to get out of the dark ages as one of four states without a hate crimes act. As a bipartisan co-sponsor of HB 426 I say, ‘now is the time for us to act by calling on the State Senate to pass HB 426.’ We have been trying to get a hate crimes act passed for three years. House Bill 426 has been carefully crafted not to impose mandatory minimums or reverse the bipartisan progress made in criminal justice reform, but to announce that now is the time for our state to assert with one voice that crimes of violence and prejudice against our neighbors will be classified and condemned for what they are: hate crimes.”

Why it Matters: Hate crimes laws allow harsher penalties for crimes where the victims were selected based on biases or prejudices. In Georgia, the bill under consideration would allow judges to impose harsher sentences if the victims were chosen based on “the actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, mental disability, or physical disability.”

Yesterday, hours before arrests were made in the Ahmaud Arbery case, another lawmaker, republican Chuck Efstration said he would make the Hate Crimes Act a top priority.

Thursday evening, the GBI arrested Gregory and Travis McMichael and charged both with murder and aggravated assault.

On Feb. 23, Arbery was in the Satilla Shores neighborhood in Brunswick, when both Gregory and Travis McMichael confronted Arbery with two firearms. During the encounter, GBI officials say Travis McMichael shot and killed Arbery.

The arrest and investigation is a result of heightened interest in the case after a cell phone video of the slaying was released to the public and went viral on the Internet. The video has led to an outcry from elected officials, including Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp and the public at large.


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