Georgian lawmakers take divergent approaches to policing after 2020 protests


Republican Senate leaders have prioritized bills that would have increased sentences for those arrested during protests and required drivers to learn how to best interact with police during a traffic stop. Neither measure has been adopted this year.

“As long as there is an implication that doing positive things for social justice issues is mutually exclusive of supporting the law enforcement community – I reject that notion,” Speaker of the House David Ralston mentionned. “A lot of times we kind of have that tension, and it doesn’t have to be there.”

But Democrats in both chambers pushed back on Republican-backed efforts. Instead, they introduced, as they do almost every year, a wide variety of laws that would overhaul the way Georgians are controlled. These bills have not been the subject of hearings.

State Representative Sandra Scott of Rex is one of several Democratic lawmakers to introduce legislation each year to address racial disparities in policing in Georgia, ranging from anti-profiling legislation to bills that require additional training on law enforcement. de-escalation.

“I’ve tabled legislation that deals with no-cut warrants, strangles, things like that – things that everyone knows is a problem,” Scott said. “Republicans are trying to do something to put people in jail for keeping the peace and asking the police to stop killing people. They go in the opposite direction. “

Scott refers Senate Bill 171, Republican Cataula legislation State Senator Randy Robertson introduced that would increase penalties for people who commit crimes during protests. Robertson is a former police officer. The measure failed.

SB 171 would have increased penalties for crimes such as blocking a highway, assaulting a person, or damaging property if it involved groups of two or more. Opponents said the legislation violates the First Amendment by placing increased limits and penalties on how and when Georgians can assemble.

“I want any group, whatever group, I don’t care if they love Jesus or if they hate Republicans, I want them to be able to go wherever they want on public property and pass it on. their message safe, ”Robertson mentioned. “What I don’t want is what happened in Charlottesville, when two opposing camps ended up clashing and people were injured and killed.”

Versions of the legislation proposed by Republicans and Democrats have appeared in states across the country with varying success.

“Since the death of George Floyd, almost 3,000 bills have been introduced in state legislatures relating to police,” said Mick Bullock, spokesperson for the National Conference of State Legislatures. “So far, in 2021, at least 2,214 bills have been introduced and nearly 100 have already been passed. Approximately 1,800 are still pending to this day. “

Maryland’s Democratic-majority General Assembly voted to repeal protections afforded to police through the “Law Enforcement Officer Rights Act” and replaced it with proceedings involving residents in the disciplinary process. In the GOP-controlled Oklahoma legislature, a new law that includes restrictions on demonstrations also grants immunity to drivers who kill or injure those who protest – a provision that was included in the Georgian version of the proposal. .

Georgia’s Republican leaders say they want to balance common sense changes in policing practices – such as funding additional trainers for all officers who receive Georgia Peace Officer Standards and Training certification – with the need to keep the peace between police and the community.

“The programs are there. They just needed the instructors and the funding to develop them, ”said Senate Majority Leader Mike Dugan, R-Carrollton.

Dugan said SB 171 and Senate Bill 115 – responding to protests and traffic stops, respectively – met the needs presented last summer.

“Even when you look at the arrest of citizens, there have been situations that have arisen and we said we probably need to look at that,” he said.

Citizen Arrest, a Civil War-era law on Georgia’s books that allows residents to arrest someone they believe has committed a crime, was a law identified by advocacy organizations rights immediately after the murder of Arbery, a black man from the Brunswick area who was followed by three white men and shot and killed. A prosecutor initially cited the Citizen’s Arrest Act when he suggested that the men who are now charged and awaiting trial for Arbery’s murder should not be arrested.

After lawmakers met in 2020 after Arbery’s murder to pass hate crimes law, “the next logical step,” said Ralston, was to revise the Citizen Arrest Act.

“We saw the disgusting potential for abuse of the Citizen Arrest Act in the Arbery case,” said Ralston.

Legislation such as hate crime protection and repealing citizen arrest had been enforced by Democrats for years, Democratic Leader in the Senate Gloria Butler mentionned. But more recent efforts, such as preventing police from using stranglers or rubber bullets, have failed to gain traction in the Republican-controlled legislature.

“It is not surprising to me that our legislation has not been the subject of hearings,” she said. “But beware, in a few years we will come back, we will see Republicans carrying our bills. … For now, we just need to push back some of the more extreme things they’re trying to do.

For example, almost all Democrats in the General Assembly voted against legislation that would have required drivers to learn best practices on how to interact with police during a traffic stop. Democrats questioned the need for the legislation as Republican lawmakers also did not get additional training for law enforcement.

Democrats in both chambers have introduced several bills aimed at overhauling the way Georgians are vetted, including demanding that the police file reports at every traffic stop they perform and to train police to interact with those who may have mental health issues related to post-traumatic stress disorder.

Robertson, who also introduced the driver education bill, said he found the efforts “reactionary.”

“From what I saw, their objective was simply to draw attention to what they perceived to be a problem within law enforcement and not to wait for a solution to be resolved. which they saw as a problem, ”he said.

A measure that was supported by Republican leaders in both houses was passed by the General Assembly in response to national calls to “defund the police” by reallocating money from law enforcement budgets to fund law enforcement agencies. services such as mental health treatment or education. Local politicians in Atlanta and Athens considered transferring money to law enforcement last year, but opted against it.

Ralston said there was room for the parties to come together, as with hate crimes and citizen arrest legislation, and pass bills that mend the relationship between the forces of the order and communities of color.

“I am not opposed to the idea of ​​sitting down thoughtfully and looking for ways to carry out police reforms so that all Georgians have confidence in the work of our law enforcement agencies, and I do. say as a very strong supporter of the law enforcement community in general, ”he said. “When you politicize this stuff, I’m not sure you get the best result. But I still believe that you can have a reasonable dialogue between reasonable people. “

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