Rayford file photo

[image-1] Two pieces of legislation intended to stop citizen’s arrests in South Carolina were introduced to the General Assembly on May 12. Both bills were proposed in reaction to Ahmaud Arbery’s shooting death near Brunswick, Ga.

Arbery, a 25-year-old black man, was killed in February while out for a jog a few miles from home. Officials initially declined to prosecute two men involved in the altercation that led to Arbery’s death, citing Georgia’s citizen’s arrest laws. The men, a father and son, have since been charged with murder.

[image-3]”This type of arrest could have effectively been made here,” said North Charleston Democratic Rep. Marvin Pendarvis, a sponsor of both bills (H.5492 and H.5487).

According to South Carolina Code of Laws, any person may arrest another individual if they witness a felony or larceny or have “certain information” that a felony has been committed. Such broad statutes could lead to fatal incidents similar to Arbery’s in South Carolina, Pendarvis believes.

“Law enforcement should be the only one that should be able to make any kind of arrest,” Pendarvis told the City Paper. “If you’re a citizen that wants to do that, then you need to go to the [police] academy. They could use it. There’s a shortage of police officers, so go ahead and get the training, get the certification to do that. What we don’t need is vigilante justice.”

One of the proposals repeals provisions for citizen’s arrests altogether, while the other allows an exception for home invasion.

Another Charleston-area rep, Krystle Matthews, signed onto the H.5487 to reform what she believes is an antiquated section of law. “This is one of those things that has traveled with us over time,” Matthews said. “Now, with the way we function as a society, I just don’t feel like that’s something that we should still be doing in these times.”

[image-2]The two white men accused of Arbery’s murder, Gregory and Travis McMichael, have claimed he looked like the culprit behind burglaries in the neighborhood. The men “confronted Arbery with two firearms,” the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) said in a May 9 press release. “During the encounter, Travis McMichael shot and killed Arbery.”

State and local law enforcement, including multiple prosecutors, initially declined to bring charges against the two men. The McMichaels were not arrested until May 7, after footage of the encounter surfaced leading to national media attention. The two men now stand charged with murder and aggravated assault. Like South Carolina, Georgia does not have a state hate crime law. The U.S. Department of Justice is reportedly considering federal hate crime charges.

The Legislature’s work was mostly halted this year due to COVID-19, putting off many other reform proposals. State lawmakers returned to Columbia this week to continue funding for state government until they meet again in the fall, when they will wrap up the two-year legislative session. Bills not passed at that point will have to be refiled when the General Assembly returns in 2021.