The "modern-day lynching" of Ahmaud Arbery has become a rallying cry for justice
On Feb. 23, a 25-year-old Georgia resident named Ahmaud Arbery went running through a suburban neighborhood and didn't return home. Arbery, a Black man, was stalked by two white men, a father and son who believed the young man to be connected with local break-ins. The two men grabbed their guns and followed Arbery in a pickup truck; in the ensuing confrontation, Arbery was shot at least twice. He died of his injuries in the street.
A police report of the incident says that the two white men, Gregory McMichael and his son Travis McMichael, brought their weapons in pursuit of Arbery because they thought he might be armed. Arbery's family says that he was out for a run and that he liked to stay fit. The confrontation happened in Satilla Shores, a middle-class neighborhood jogging distance from Brunswick, where Arbery was from.
More than two months have passed since the father and son killed Arbery, and neither McMichael has been arrested or faced charges. The elder McMichael, Gregory, was formerly an officer in the Brunswick attorney's office, which prompted some to wonder whether his former employment had influenced the lack of repercussions for Arbery's death.
A recently surfaced video of the killing has taken the cause national, igniting outrage among activists groups who say justice must be sought for Arbery and his family. The video, shot on a cellphone by a friend of the McMichaels who helped them corner Arbery, per The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, clearly shows Arbery out on what looks to be a jog when he is stopped by a pickup truck. Then two men can be seen confronting him; only seconds pass before a shot is fired.
Lawyers told AJC that they felt the video changed the entire trajectory of the case because it contradicts the McMichaels' initial story, including that Arbery was "hauling ass" he was running so fast, which made him seem guilty, as Gregory McMichael initially claimed. Georgia officials, including Republican Rep. Doug Collins and Republican Gov. Brian Kemp, have also spoken out in support of a proper investigation of the case now that the video has been circulated.
"Ahmaud was killed three days before the anniversary of the 2012 killing of Trayvon Martin," Andrea Young, the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia, said in a statement, "Both incidents are a reminder that white supremacy has been a foundation for our country and leads repeatedly to the targeting and harming people of color, particularly African Americans.”
For many, Arbery's story is just the most recent to emerge from a long history of Black men killed by white men. "The modern-day lynching of Mr. Arbery is yet another reminder of the vile and wicked racism that persists in parts of our country," James Woodall, the state president for the Georgia arm of the NAACP, said in a statement, "The slothfulness and inaction of [District Attorney] Jackie Johnson of the Brunswick Judicial Circuit and George Barnhill of the Waycross Judicial Circuit are a gross testament to the mismanagement of the judicial process in the Brunswick community."
Both the first two district attorneys assigned to the case recused themselves due to conflicts of interest pertaining to the elder McMichael, due to his work in the district attorney's office as an investigator. He was also a police officer for Glynn County, Georgia, where Brunswick and Satilla Shores are located. Both Johnson and Barnhill believed the two McMichaels to have acted within their rights under Georgia state law, which says that self defense with a lethal weapon is permitted.
Now the new DA assigned to the case, Tom Durden, has said that he plans to convene a grand jury, which will be responsible for deciding if the father and son will be indicted for Arbery's murder. But because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, it's likely this won't happen for many months; the court is scheduled to reopen in late June and will have to work through a backlog of cases before getting to Arbery's.
"For two months, the case has been neglected and passed around by prosecutors," Reverend Al Sharpton, the president of the National Action Network, said. The case has drawn the attention of several celebrities, including LeBron James and Michael B. Jordan. On Wednesday, protestors convened outside the courthouse in Brunswick to demand that Johnson resign.
On Friday, the day Arbery would have turned 26, a 2.23-mile run has been organized in his honor under the hashtag #IRunWithMaud. The distance refers to the date he was killed, with the event intended to replace the in-person protests that aren't possible now due to social distancing orders. The run is being organized by Arbery's former high school football coach, Jason Vaughn, who told CNN that while "we can't have a demonstration where we all come together ... any runner can identify with Maud," and anyone "can go out there and hit the pavement and go jog."
Update May 8: Gregory and Travis McMichael were arrested Thursday evening and charged with murder and aggravated assault in connection to Arbery's death, according to a press release from the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. The GBI is working with local law enforcement to investigate the case.