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Georgia Legislature Finally Passes Hate Crime Bill In A 'Historic' Moment

Georgia Legislature Finally Passes Hate Crime Bill In A 'Historic' Moment

Lawmakers began pushing for the passage of the bill following the senseless killing of a 25-year-old Black man, Ahmaud Arbery, who was pursued and shot dead by two white men.

Image Source: Facebook/Nitisha The Barber

Georgia will no longer be among the only four U.S. states that do not have hate crime legislation. On Tuesday afternoon, a hate crimes bill passed the state Senate with a 47-6 vote and the statehouse with 127-38 split. The bill, HB426, which is now on it's way to Governor Bian Kemp's desk, is just a signature away from becoming law. In a statement to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Kemp's office revealed that he will sign the bill pending legal review. Lawmakers began pushing for the passage of the bill following the senseless killing of a 25-year-old Black man, Ahmaud Arbery, who was pursued and shot dead by two white men. Arbery was simply jogging in the Brunswick neighborhood on February 23 when he was chased and killed by Travis McMichael, Greg McMichael, and William R. Bryan.



 

 

Allison Padilla-Goodman, the vice president of the southern division for the Anti-Defamation League, expressed how "thrilled" she was with the news of the bill's passage. For decades, the Anti-Defamation League has been pushing for a hate crime law and HB426 is definitely a win. "Both chambers, both sides of the aisle, are standing up to bias and bias-motivated crimes and saying they want to protect their citizens," added Padilla-Goodman. Even Republican Senator Bill Cowsert regarded the passage of the bill as a "historic" moment. 



 

 

"I think we're really at sort of a tipping point right now, and this has been brought about by some of the recent events that have been put visually in front of us on video that are impossible to defend," said Cowsert. If signed into law, it would be mandatory to intensify sentencing for defendants who are convicted of targeting a victim because of their "actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, gender, mental disability, or physical disability." This would potentially increase jail time or the amount of fine in addition to the sentences for the type of crime the defendant is convicted of, like murder or manslaughter. 



 

 

The previous attempts to pass a hate crime bill in Georgia was faced with a lot of hesitation. Back in 2000, the state's general assembly passed a hate crimes bill which called for additional sentencing for crimes driven by "bias or prejudice." However, it was rejected by Georgia Supreme Court in 2004 on grounds of being unconstitutionally vague. When the HB 426 was being created, it was crafted using more specific language. Although it gained the support of bipartisan it narrowly passed the state's House last year. 



 

 

Then again, it got delayed in a Senate committee before the legislature adjourned due to the pandemic in March. With the recent murder of Arbery, there has been a "newfound resurgence of interest in making sure Georgia gets this on the books," said Georgia Representative Karen Bennet, who is also the chairwoman of the Georgia Legislative Black Caucus, according to CBS News. As soon as work resumed in the legislature this month, lawmakers supporting this bill gathered at the state capitol with signs that showed their support for Arbery and George Floyd, an unarmed black man whose death sparked massive outrage and protests across the country. 



 

 

Many senators took to the Senate floor and spoke about their personal experiences with hate and discrimination. Among them was Democratic Senator Donzella James, a Black woman, who recalled being yelled racial slurs at as a child by a group of white students who also threw bottles at her when she waited for her bus. "It's time for Georgia to rise up and show that we will not stand for crimes done out of hate," said James. "Yes, we cannot legislate love, but we can put stronger penalties in place that may deter those who are committing these crimes from doing it."

 



 

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