On Sunday, Feb. 23, 25-year-old black man named Ahmaud Marquez Arbery was gunned down while jogging in a Georgia suburban neighborhood. Now that video footage of the incident has surfaced, his senseless death has sparked grief and outrage nationwide.
Arbery, an avid fitness buff and former athlete, was jogging in Satilla Shores when Gregory McMichael, 64, saw the young man and believed he matched the description of an individual who was suspected of committing multiple burglaries in the area.
McMichael called to his son, 34-year-old Travis McMichael, and the two men grabbed a shotgun and a .357 magnum and chased Arbery in their pickup truck. An unnamed third man also joined the pursuit.
According to The New York Times, a neighbor called 911 shortly before the two men began chasing Arbery and stated that a black man was seen inside a nearby house that was under construction. Gregory McMichael told police that while they were pursuing Arbery, they yelled “Stop, stop, we want to talk to you.” They pulled in front of the young man and Travis got out of his vehicle carrying his shotgun.
The police report says that Gregory McMichael indicated that “the unidentified male began to violently attack Travis and the two men then started fighting over the shotgun at which point Travis fired a shot and then a second later there was a second shot.”
The recently-released video shows that after the second shot, Arbery, who was unarmed, collapsed. He succumbed to his injuries minutes later. Neither of the two men have been arrested or charged.
Warning: This video contains graphic and disturbing content.
The Brunswick News reported that the McMichael men were “fed up with burglaries and auto break-ins,” by the time the incident occurred. The senior McMichael claimed that they saw Arbery “the other night” and he allegedly reached in his pants, “as if readying to draw a gun,” the police report said.
The original prosecutor for the Brunswick judicial district recused herself from the case because Gregory McMichael, a retired Glynn County police officer and former investigator, had worked in her office. The case was then given to district attorney George E. Barnhill who also recused himself after Arbery’s mother argued that he had a conflict of interest because his son works for the Brunswick district attorney.
The New York Times obtained a letter from Barnhill in which he argued that the two men should not be arrested. He stated that the McMichaels had the right to pursue “a burglary suspect” and referred to a state law that says “A private person may arrest an offender if the offense is committed in his presence or within his immediate knowledge.”
Barnhill also asserted that if Arbery attacked Travis McMichael, the shooter was “allowed to use deadly force to protect himself” under Georgia law.
However, Michael J. Moore, an Atlanta attorney and former U.S. attorney in Georgia, found flaws in Barnhill’s argument. After reviewing the police report, he told The New York Times that the McMichaels seemed to be the aggressors in the incident and that Georgia’s self-defense laws do not justify their actions. “The law does not allow a group of people to form an armed posse and chase down an unarmed person who they believe might have possibly been the perpetrator of a past crime,” he wrote.
Tom Durden, the third prosecutor to handle the case, indicated that he would present the case to a grand jury after reviewing the details of the incident. He released a statement in which he said, “I am of the opinion that the case should be presented to the grand jury of Glynn County for consideration of criminal charges against those involved in the death of Mr. Arbery.”
The circumstances and details of this shooting reveal a reckless disregard for the law and an unjustified use of force on the part of the McMichael men. For starters, if they suspected that Arbery was involved in the rash of burglaries and thefts in the neighborhood, the appropriate response would be to contact law enforcement, not engage in vigilante tactics. Moreover, despite Barnhill’s assertions, there is currently no evidence that Arbery was guilty of the crime of which he was suspected.
But even still, these two men had no business pursuing Arbery to mete out their form of justice even if they did believe they had a valid reason to believe he committed the crime. They were not in any danger as the victim was not threatening them in any way.
The video does show that the young man attacked Travis McMichael after he exited his vehicle brandishing a shotgun. However, there can be no doubt that being pursued by two strangers with weapons for no good reason would elicit a flight or fight response – he had no idea what the McMichael’s intentions were. The reality is that if the McMichael’s hadn’t given chase and approached Arbery, the young man would be alive today.
Of course, it is impossible to ignore the racial aspect of this story. While one cannot read minds, it is difficult for me to believe that the victim’s race played absolutely no role in this situation. The authorities seemed ready to dismiss this case and allow the McMichaels to go free without a trial.
The emergence of the video and the backlash that followed likely prompted the willingness to send the case to a grand jury. But the truth is that the details of the shooting should have been enough to at least bring about legal proceedings.
The case is expected to go before a grand jury in June as the courts are not fully operational due to the COVID-19 outbreak. Hopefully, the family of Ahmaud Arbery will see justice be done.
Let me know what you think in the comments below.
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