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Democrats in Georgia propose policing changes as protesters set march on Atlanta

Georgia politician Robert Trammell
Georgia’s House minority leader, Democrat Robert Trammell, speaks against a bill in February.
(Bob Andres / Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Protesters plan to greet a returning Georgia General Assembly on Monday morning, seeking in part an end to police brutality and changes to the state’s criminal justice system.

The session comes on the heels of the death of Rayshard Brooks, 27, a Black man who was shot and killed by a white officer following a confrontation with police outside a fast-food restaurant in Atlanta on Friday. The city’s police chief resigned hours later, and the officer who fired the fatal shot was fired.

The Georgia Bureau of Investigation is handling the case and will forward its findings to the Fulton County district attorney.

Democrats, who are in the minority in both the state’s House and Senate, say they’re ready to act, rolling out extensive proposals last week.

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But Republican leaders and even some Democrats say there’s not enough time to make a whole slate of changes, with only 11 working days left beginning Monday in a session disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic. While lawmakers may consider giving Georgia a law imposing stiffer sentences for hate crimes, other proposals such as abolishing the state’s citizen’s arrest law, ending so-called no-knock warrants or allowing people to sue police officers for misconduct seem unlikely to reach Republican Gov. Brian Kemp’s desk this year.

Not that there won’t be a fight. House Minority Leader Robert Trammell, a Democrat from Luthersville, said in an interview Friday that he believed lawmakers have “the opportunity and time to get it done. The question is do we have the political will for it.”

Atlanta police video shows a seemingly routine sobriety check outside a Wendy’s restaurant quickly spinning out of control and ending in gunfire. The killing of a 27-year-old Black man, Rayshard Brooks, in an encounter with two white officers late Friday has rekindled fiery protests in Atlanta and prompted the police chief’s resignation.

“For the General Assembly to turn a deaf ear to the cries that are occurring all over Georgia and throughout the country would be a tragic missed opportunity and a dereliction of responsibility,” Trammell said, referring to nationwide protests of recent weeks.

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Those cries will arrive at the state Capitol on Monday morning as Georgia’s NAACP marches across downtown Atlanta, demanding changes to criminal justice and voting systems after Tuesday’s election delays.

“It’s going to take real effort on the part of every elected official in the Georgia General Assembly to do their part to protect every single Georgian,” the organization said in statement last week announcing the march.

House Democrats say they’re backing 12 separate bills, including the hate crimes bill. Senate Democrats are backing a package including 10 previously introduced bills plus seven new ideas. State Senate Minority Leader Steve Henson said Friday that the recycled bills prove that Republicans have been ignoring criminal justice problems.

“These are important issues that have been neglected by the majority party, that we haven’t been able to get a hearing on,” said Henson, a Stone Mountain Democrat.

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Some Republicans also support ending Georgia’s citizen’s arrest law, a possible factor in the February shooting of Ahmaud Arbery, an unarmed Black man killed while running through a subdivision near Brunswick.

Three Georgia men charged with murder in the shooting of Ahmaud Arbery are due in court to find out whether the case will go to trial.

Both House and Senate Democrats want to abolish Georgia’s “stand your ground” law, which states that people can use force without retreating.

“We need to literally revoke the license to kill in public spaces that is ‘stand your ground,’” Trammell said Thursday during an online news conference.

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Other proposals shared by House and Senate Democrats include requiring police to announce themselves before serving a warrant, creating a registry of traffic stops to look for racial profiling, banning chokeholds, ending officers’ immunity from lawsuits if they’ve done something wrong and requiring all officers to wear and use body cameras. The packages have some differences — House Democrats want an oversight commission for prosecutors, while senators want bans on rubber bullets and limits on police chases.

House Speaker David Ralston said Friday that Democrats are proposing far-reaching changes, and that anything beyond a hate crimes bill may be too much for the remaining time.

“I think the scope of the discussion expands when you throw in citizen’s arrest and other issues like that,” the Blue Ridge Republican said.


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