Three men executed a “hot pursuit” of a young African American man in the past 23 of February, which they allege fit the description of a robbery suspect, according to the Waycross County Attorney’s Office in Georgia. This young man, identified as Ahmaud Arbery, 25, was shot dead that day. Now, more than two months after the incident, and following the “viralization” of a video, two of those men are behind bars facing aggravated murder and assault charges. But what has delayed the investigation so long?
With the coronavirus dominating the news and disrupting the lives of everyone in the United States, the Arbery shooting initially drew little attention outside of Brunswick, about 70 miles south of Savannah, a city of approximately 16,000 residents. But the week of what would have been the young man’s 26th birthday, a video of the incident was furiously shared on social media, including by celebrities like Lebron James, sparking national outrage.
“We are hunted literally every day / every time we step outside the comfort of our homes. We can’t even go running,” James wrote on Instagram.
The video was reportedly released on Tuesday, May 5th, by attorney Alan Tucker who does not represent anyone in the case. According to The New York Times, the suspects had informally consulted Tucker about the case. Apparently, the lawyer published it to clear doubts about the events. “It was not two men with a Confederate flag in the trunk of their truck shooting a jogger in their back,” Tucker told the media.
The investigation led by local authorities appeared to have stalled and amid national controversy, the case was brought up to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI). Two days after taking over, GBI arrested Gregory and Travis McMichael, a father and son, on Thursday. Gregory, 64, was a retired investigator who worked until May 2019 at the Brunswick District Attorney’s Office. Due to this link, prosecutor Jackie Johnson recused herself from the case, February 27. Gregory was also previously a police officer for Glynn County.
In the video, recorded on a cell phone by Bryan William, a friend of the McMichaels, Arbery is seen jogging down a residential street. Then the young man meets the McMichael’s stopped truck and overcomes it.
It is at that moment when Travis, the son, who was the driver, gets armed with Arbery and three shots are heard until the young African-American man falls down to the ground. His father, also armed, witnessed what happened standing in the truck bed. Although the men had outdoor weapons, not being felony criminals, this is legal under Georgia law.
According to the McMichael’s statements to the police after the event, they persecuted him and shot him because they believed he coincided with a suspect in robberies in the neighborhood, but the Arbery family assures that the young man, a former football player, was only playing sports.
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Although the arrests were well received this week, Arbery’s family and his supporters expressed frustration at the long wait and fear that the justice system will fail them.
“It is a shame that it has taken more than two months to arrest Ahmaud Arbery’s executioners, but it is better late than never,” family lawyer Benjamin Crump said in a statement.
According to USA Today, local officials and community leaders have admitted that the suspects had been released after the events due to a history of nepotism and privileges at the Waycross and Brunswick District Attorney’s Offices.
The second prosecutor in charge of the investigation, George E. Barnhill, had concluded. in early April that there was not enough evidence to arrest the McMichaels and that the events fell within the state’s legal framework — self-defense and citizen-arrest laws that allow a suspect to endure while the police arrive. It would have started as a citizen arrest and, they say, when Arbery “attacked” the men and grabbed the gun, it became a self-defense case, which is why they said they saw no reason to arrest any of the three men. Under pressure from the Arbery family, District Attorney Barnhill also recused himself from the case because Barnhill’s son had worked alongside Gregory in the Brunswick District Attorney’s Office. Barnhill asked the Georgia Attorney General’s Office to assign another prosecutor to the case.
A third prosecutor, Tom Durden, of the Atlantic Judicial Circuit Office, took over the investigation this last April 13.
Durden had earlier this week announced his intention to present the case to a grand jury, but the Georgia Bureau of Investigation came forward this Thursday, April 7, by arresting the two men for the crimes of murder and aggravated assault.
Despite the confinement measures governing the COVID-19 pandemic, some protests occurred to demand “justice” for Arbery this Friday.
In addition, President Donald Trump called the death of the young man “something very sad”, while the Governor of Georgia, Brian Kemp, said he saw the video, which he described as “absolutely horrendous.”