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Queens lawmaker seeks end of citizen’s arrest law after Arbery killing

One year after the shooting death of Ahmaud Arbery, state Senator Michael Gianaris introduces legislation to repeal citizen's arrest in New York. (REUTERS/Dustin Chambers)

One year after Ahmaud Arbery was shot and killed while jogging near his Georgia home, state Senator Michael Gianaris introduced new legislation to end citizen’s arrests in New York state.

Citizen’s arrest laws allow untrained individuals to apprehend alleged suspects.

Existing New York State law allows private individuals to arrest someone without a warrant for any crime, at any time of the day. In some circumstances, these individuals do not even need to inform the prospective arrestee of the reason for performing the arrest. Private individuals are also currently authorized by law to use “such physical force as is justifiable” to effectuate the arrest, posing a significant danger to New Yorkers.

“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.”

Arbery, a 25-year-old Black jogger, was shot and killed by three white vigilantes as he ran along one of his neighborhood streets in Brunswick, Ga. Two of the three men told investigators that they were conducting a citizen’s arrest and were acting in self-defense.

Gianaris worked on the measure to repeal the law in New York with Georgia State Representative Carl Gilliard, who has authored a similar bill in his home state where Arbery was killed.

“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, juvenile suspects are subject to similar citizen’s arrest provisions. Currently, anyone under the age of sixteen may be taken into custody by a private person for committing an act that would subject an adult to a similar arrest. Juveniles do not need to be informed of the reason for being taken into custody.

“Citizen’s arrest is a long outdated and unnecessary practice that must be removed from law to prevent future tragedies,” Upstate Assemblywoman Pamela Hunter, who carried the bill in the lower chamber, said. “Many of those who attempt these arrests have no formal training and needlessly instigate confrontations based on prejudice and misinformation. I look forward to working with Senator Gianaris on this legislation so that New York may continue to lead in securing these critical criminal justice reforms.”

Efforts to repeal citizen’s arrest laws are currently underway in Georgia, Florida, and South Carolina.

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