Georgia State Legislature Passes Historic Hate Crime Bill
"To me, this was clearly a hate crime,” Wanda Cooper-Jones said of her late son's killing.
The Georgia Legislature passed a hate crime bill on Tuesday which, pending legal review, will head to Gov. Brian Kemp's office to be officially signed into law.
According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, House Bill 426 would permit elevated consequences for individuals who commit crimes against others based on their race, gender, sexual orientation, national origin, religion, or physical or mental disability. Should an individual be found guilty of carrying out a hate crime, in addition to their sentence, they'll spend six to 12 months behind bars for a misdemeanor and at least two years if it's a felony. A fine of up to $5,000 will also be imposed.
"This is a defining moment for Georgia," Republican House Speaker David Ralston said about the historic legislation.
The bill was passed with a vote of 47-6 in the Senate and 127-8 in the House.
The Georgia Democrats echoed Speaker Ralston's sentiments with remarks of their own.
"We are thrilled that this [hate crimes] law has finally passed after years of advocacy, but let's be clear — we will not forget that this bill only came to light after 14 years of delays under Republican leadership, the murder of black men before our eyes, and the pain of marginalized communities across our state," they said in a statement obtained by CBS News.
Although nationwide protests have picked up since the Memorial Day killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officers, earlier this year, a Georgia town was the scene of a heinous crime which, to most, had glaring racial implications.
Unarmed Black jogger Ahmaud Arbery was killed in Brunswick when two white men, who claimed they were making a citizen's arrest, shot him on February 23. Gregory and Travis McMichael said they believed Arbery resembled a suspect in a string of neighborhood burglaries. Since that day, all three men involved, including a man who recorded the 25-year-old's killing, have been charged with murder, as Blavity previously reported.
On May 11, Arbery would have celebrated his 26th birthday.
Arbery's mother, Wanda Cooper-Jones urged the state to pass a hate crime bill in a New York Times video op-ed published on June 9.
"To me, this was clearly a hate crime,” Cooper-Jones said. "If Georgia had a hate crime law, Ahmaud’s killers could face additional sentences for murdering my son for the color of his skin."
"As we've seen in the protests about George Floyd, Ahmaud is just one of the many Black lives that has been lost due to hatred," she added. "Ahmaud wasn't killed because he was doing a crime. So, why would he have been targeted, if it wasn't just for hate?"
The measure arrives amid another devastating occasion: the funeral services for Rayshard Brooks, one of the latest victims of police brutality. On June 12, Brooks was gunned down by Atlanta police in the parking lot of a Wendy's. On June 15, Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms announced a slew of administrative orders geared toward modifying the use of force within the city's police department. Two days later, former officer Garrett Rolfe was formally charged with felony murder, aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and nine other charges for his actions that led to Brooks' death.