The James Byrd Jr. Center to Stop Hate applauds Georgia for taking an historic step to address bias-motivated crimes by enacting a state hate crime law, House Bill 426. The bill was signed into law by Governor Kemp earlier today.
In late February, Ahmaud Arbery, a young Black man was out jogging when he was chased, shot, and killed by white men in Glynn County. Evidence now shows that this crime was motivated by bias against Black Americans. After shooting Arbery three times, Travis McMichael, one of the defendants, used a racial epithet (“f***ing n***er”). In addition, body camera footage shows a Confederate flag sticker on the toolbox of the McMichael’s truck. Furthermore, the social media accounts of at least two of the defendants had racist content, including a message by Travis McMichael where he told someone that he loved his job because there “weren’t any N-words anywhere.” In yet another message, McMichael responded to an Instagram message “that things would be better if someone had ‘blown that N-word’s head off.’” We believe this evidence indicates that Arbery’s killers were motivated by bias and that what happened to Ahmaud Arbery constitutes a hate crime.
According to FBI data, African Americans remain the most frequent victims of hate crimes. Hate crimes – like the killing of Ahmaud Arbery – are unique from other crimes in that they are messaging crimes. They send a message to anyone who shares the targeted identity of the victim that they are not welcome or safe in the community. They send a message to other young black men that it’s not safe to go for a jog and that black mothers should think twice before encouraging their kid to go outside to get some fresh air. That is why, in the wake of the Arbery killing, it is especially important that HB 426, which recognizes the harm of bias-motivated crimes, was enacted as law.
Even as we applaud Georgia for enacting this historic legislation, we recognize that this legislation is only one step in the fight to end white supremacy and hate. We recognize that aggressive sentencing has contributed to soaring incarceration rates with severe and disproportionate consequences for people of color and that enhanced penalties for bias-related crimes are not enough to deter hate crimes from happening. We encourage the State of Georgia to continue to explore other means of making the criminal justice system one that treats everyone with dignity, respect and fair process.