Georgia governor signs long-stalled hate crimes legislation

Legislators in the southern US state pointed to the death of Ahmaud Arbery as among the reasons for new legislation.

    A cross stands along a Georgia highway near where Ahmaud Arbery was killed; his death has led legislators in the state to pass new hate crimes legislation [File: Dustin Chambers/Reuters]
    A cross stands along a Georgia highway near where Ahmaud Arbery was killed; his death has led legislators in the state to pass new hate crimes legislation [File: Dustin Chambers/Reuters]

    Georgia Governor Brian Kemp on Friday signed a hate crimes bill that provides for extra penalties for crimes motivated by race, colour, gender or sexual orientation, a move in part motivated by the high-profile killing of a Black jogger this year.

    The legislation comes at a time when the slayings of African Americans at the hands of police and white men have spurred weeks of demonstrations across Georgia and the nation, with calls for racial justice.

    "We must do our part to make sure that our state is a place where people, no matter their skin colour, can live and prosper," Kemp said at a signing ceremony.

    A previous hate crimes law in the state was struck down by the Georgia Supreme Court in 2004 for being "unconstitutionally vague", and efforts to revise it over the years failed.

    Lawmakers on Friday pointed to the death of Ahmaud Arbery as among the reasons for new legislation.

    Arbery, a 25-year-old Black jogger, was chased down by three white men and shot dead in the coastal Georgia town of Brunswick in February.

    The men told police they thought Arbery was a burglar and they tried to apprehend him.

    Local prosecutors and police did not initially bring charges. But after a mobile phone video of the slaying went viral, the state police stepped in and charged three men with murder more than two months later.

    Arbery's mother, Wanda Cooper-Jones, said the bill means that her son did not die in vain.

    "I know he is still with us and this law is evidence of that," she said in a statement.

    SOURCE: Reuters news agency