June 20, 2020

ATLANTA – The Senate Judiciary Committee has twisted the Hate Crimes bill (HB 426) to chill freedom of speech and the right to protest to redress grievances – using the bill to affirm the state’s power to use violence against its own citizens with impunity.

“In the wake of the death of Rayshard Brooks at the hands of a police officer and the failure of police to arrest the killers of Ahmaud Arbery, the Georgia Senate Judiciary Committee chose to add the occupation of law enforcement to HB 426 Hate Crimes bill. This vote in this moment pours salt on the wounds of the Georgians of all races and backgrounds who are participating daily in protests calling for the reform of policing and expressing their support for black lives,” said Andrea Young, executive director of the ACLU of Georgia. “Additionally, this provision undermines the officers who strive to obey their oath of office and uphold high standards in their interactions with the public.”

“The Senate Judiciary Comment changes made on June 19th are unacceptable. By adding first responders, the bill has become a restraint on freedom of speech and the rights of protesters. Anyone protesting police misconduct could find themselves subject to a hate crimes charge, enhanced penalties and the lifelong stigma associated with such a charge,” Young continued. “This is not conjecture, law enforcement officers in Pennsylvania have added hate crimes charges for offensive speech, punishing people who get angry when they are arrested. The ACLU of Georgia opposes HB 426 in its current form and will explore all options to protect the First Amendment rights of Georgians.”

There are sufficient protections for law enforcement in the code including enhanced penalties for assaulting a police officer and a separate offence for obstruction or hindering a police officer. 

In his testimony Friday before the Georgia Senate Judiciary Committee, former Douglas County Chief Assistant District Attorney David Emadi confirmed that the first responder language was unnecessary saying, “​The first responder sub[titute] is something we have never encountered as a problem. I have never heard of that group being targeted for any reason and I do not see what that language adds to this House bill.”

Click to read this statement online.

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