Ahmaud Arbery was a 25-year-old Black man who was murdered while he was out jogging. Former police officer Gregory McMichael, 64, and Gregory’s son Travis McMichael, 34, have been charged with his murder and aggravated assault. They say they suspected he had been a burglar running through the neighborhood, though there was no evidence he had committed any crime. The incident was caught on camera (which will not be shared here), and the two men have finally been arrested. Here is what we know.
First of all, Arbery was killed months ago on, February 23, and at the time, the case was already not a concern for prosecutors and was being swept under the rug, which is why news about it is just now spreading.
According to CNN, someone in Satilla Shores, a small community in Georgia, called 911 to say they saw a “black male running down the street” and followed up with saying, “There’s been break-ins out here. There’s a guy in a house right now. It’s a house under construction.”
“That’s fine. I’ll get them out there,” the operator says. “I just need to know what he was doing wrong. Was he just on the premises and not supposed to be?”
The caller then replies, “He’s been caught on the camera a bunch before at night. It’s kind of an ongoing thing out here.”
Moments later, three blasts of a shotgun are heard, and Arbery’s life was taken even though he was just running down the street and there was no evidence that he had committed any crime. So, if there was footage of a man being murdered, with no evidence of a crime being committed, why was there no action taken against the McMichaels?
According to documents that The New York Times obtained, a Georgia prosecutor had to recuse himself due to a conflict of interest. However, he did advise the Glynn County Police Department that there was “insufficient probable cause” to issue warrants for the McMichaels. Then, the new prosecutor, George E. Barnhill, said that McMichaels were “carrying their weapons legally under Georgia law” and also referenced the state’s citizen’s arrest statute and the statute on self-defense.
The prosecutor said that Mr. Arbery, who from footage and reports was unarmed, initiated the fight with Travis McMichael, and that allowed the man to use “deadly force to protect himself.”
I’m just going to scream into the void.
The complete desire not to prosecute a former cop and his son is so transparent. There was no evidence that Arbery committed any crime. He was running in the street, something that millions of people do. The McMichaels confronted him with guns. Even if somehow Arbery had committed a burglary, you know that the penalty for burglary is in Georgia? Between 1 to 20 years in prison, not an execution.
What’s even more tragic is that the only reason this case is getting so much attention is because the video has been circulating. I’ve read descriptions, but I couldn’t watch it myself, although I know it bombarded many timelines on social media. Why does Black Justice have to be paired with continuation of inflicting trauma on a community that already knows that no amount of Black death really changes things. They still killed Black children after Emmett Till. People have already called this incident a lynching, and for a long time, it was treated with the same disregard by the justice system.
Now, District Attorney Tom Durden, who is the third prosecutor to handle this case, says he will bring the case before a grand jury as soon as it safe due to COVID-19.
Covering Black death and violence against Black people in the post-Jussie Smollett world will forever be a fraught experience. It was already something that had slowly become normalized despite the Black Lives Matter movement, and planting a seed of doubt into the world will only make things more complicated.
Even though he was forced to recuse himself, former prosecutor Barnhill has been making statements about Arbery’s former record in an effort to portray the dead man as responsible for his end. According to CNN, Barnhill has said, “Arbery’s mental health records and prior convictions help explain his apparent aggressive nature and his possible thought pattern to attack an armed man.”
Interesting how, despite not being the one to have started the initial conflict, nor the one having a shotgun, he has accused of having an aggressive nature because he didn’t just allow a shotgun to be pulled on him. As for his prior convictions, it has been reported that Arbery was alleged to have brought a gun to a 2013 high school basketball game when he was 19, and the family attorney has acknowledged Arbery’s 2018 arrest on shoplifting charges.
What exactly that has to do with this current case, I don’t know, but it is clear that before the footage stirred up outrage, Ahmaud Arbery’s death was seen as excusable—as though he should have allowed two strange white men with guns to do whatever they wanted to him. So what if that could be seen as a threat? So what if that triggered some fear in Ahmaud Arbery? White men with guns approaching Black men? When has that ever ended badly?
We talk a lot about justice for a person, but there is nothing that will bring Ahmaud Arbery back to life. He will not be able to defend himself or have a future. The footage of his death will be vivisected to the point where it overshadows every moment he lived before that.
If only he had been just allowed to jog.
(via NYT, image: Sean Rayford/Getty Images)
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