Major Georgia companies including Coca-Cola, Delta call for hate crime legislation in wake of Ahmaud Arbery's death

Major Georgia corporations including Coca-Cola, Delta and Home Depot are calling on lawmakers to pass hate crime legislation in the wake of Ahmaud Arbery's death.

The letter sent to state lawmakers on Monday was signed by 70 business leaders and urged elected officials to adopt a "comprehensive, specific and clear" hate crime law when they return to the legislative session next week.

Arbery, a 25-year-old black man, was jogging through a residential neighborhood near Brunswick, Ga., when he was allegedly chased down by Gregory McMichael and his son Travis McMichael, who used their truck to block Arbery before shooting him to death. Their neighbor, William Bryan, used his cellphone to record the incident. All three men have been charged with murder.

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Georgia is one of four states in the nation that does not have a hate crime law. The state's previous law addressing hate crime was declared unconstitutional in 2004. Fifteen years later, the Georgia House narrowly passed a hate crime bill but it was held up in a Senate committee.

The bill, sponsored by Georgia Rep. Chuck Efstration, a Republican from Dacula, would allow stiffer sentences for anyone convicted of targeting a victim based on their race, color, religion, gender,  sexual orientation, mental disability or physical disability.

Calls to pass the bill have gained traction following Arbery's death. Prosecutors claimed during a preliminary hearing for the McMichaels and Bryan that Travis McMichael stood over Arbery's lifeless body on the street and called him racial expletives.

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The urgency to pass a comprehensive hate crime bill also intensified following the death of George Floyd, a Minneapolis black man who died after a white police officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes.

George Floyd (left), Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery

George Floyd (left), Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery

Since then, civil unrest has broken out in Atlanta as well as several cities across the country in protest of police brutality and systemic racism.

Republican Gov. Brian Kemp has indicated he might be receptive to signing a hate crime bill but has not taken a firm stance, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported. Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan said he wants changes to the legislation which would require yet another vote in the House, where it barely passed the last time.

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Monday's letter, also signed by executives from BlackRock, Georgia-Pacific, UPS and Georgia Power, said that in order to maintain the state's reputation as one of the best places in the country to do business, it "must also be in the business of advancing policies that support the positive change and social impact our communities need in order to build a more just and inclusive world."