As with most controversial news stories, the shooting of Ahmaud Arbery has garnered nationwide attention and sparked a fierce debate in the public square. It has also generated no small level of misinformation being disseminated about the incident.
Some of these individuals seem to have all but dismissed the McMichael’s role in the incident and focused primarily on villainizing the young man whose life was taken under the guise of “getting all of the facts.” But those who are intent on smearing Arbery are building their case on falsehoods rather than actual facts.
This piece will address the most common myths surrounding the matter.
Much of the anti-Arbery smear campaign consists of an overall effort to convince the American public that he was not a jogger, but a malicious burglar intent on pilfering the belongings of the residents of Satilla Shores.
For starters, they argue that he was not wearing running shoes, as was pointed out by various news reports. Instead, they contend that he was wearing “work boots.” As proof, they center on a still shot of the footage of his encounter with the McMichaels that seems to show that he is wearing heavy boots. These individuals argue that if he were truly a jogger, he would not be wearing this attire.
However, cameras in the construction site he entered shortly before his death show that he was indeed wearing running shoes. Moreover, The New York Post published an article discussing the autopsy report. The author explains that the report revealed, “Arbery was wearing a white t-shirt, tan cargo shorts, gray athletic shoes and two tan bandannas — all of which were bloodstained.”
Another myth that was being circulated on social media indicated that Arbery had been carrying a hammer that he stole from the construction site, which is owned by Larry English. Those making this argument claim that he threw the hammer shortly before his altercation with the McMichaels. They point to an object that was lying on the ground in the footage of the encounter as evidence.
The grainy video footage does show an object on the ground. However, nobody has proved that this item is a hammer. Moreover, a recently-published YouTube video demonstrates that this particular object was already on the ground before Arbery reached the scene, so he could not have placed the item at that location. Finally, English told The Washington Post that nothing had been recently stolen from his construction site.
Next, we have the theory that Arbery entered the construction site on multiple occasions. At first, it was established that the young man went into the site shortly before his confrontation with the McMichaels. But later, it was reported that footage showed him going into the property multiple times in October 2019. The anti-Arbery crowd was using this “fact” to support the theory that the young man was casing the house for a future burglary.
However, ABC News revealed that the man who was entering the construction site in October was not Arbery. According to their report, English informed law enforcement that an “unknown black male” kept trespassing on the site and was captured in the surveillance camera footage. However, the suspect was described as a “lighter skinned black male, slender build” who stood between “5-foot-10 and 6-foot and whose arms may have been covered in tattoos and has 3-inch to 4-inch “twists/dreads hairstyle.”
However, Arbery does not match this description. He was 6 feet tall with a dark complexion and a low-faded haircut. Even a cursory examination of the video shows that Arbery’s build is distinctly different from the man who entered the property in October. The victim’s mother affirms that it was Arbery who went into the site on Feb. 23, the day of the shooting, but stated that the person who did the same in October was not her son. Neither of the men in question stole anything from the site.
Finally, we have the citizen’s arrest issue. Many on the right have defended the McMichael’s decision to pursue Arbery after they saw him running by their house, claiming that they were exercising their right to citizen’s arrest.
Indeed, George Barnhill, the second district attorney to handle the case, wrote a memo in which he justified the two men’s actions by claiming that they were trying to make a citizen’s arrest on a “burglary suspect.” He was later compelled to recuse himself from the case after Arbery’s mother pointed out that his son worked in the same office as the elder McMichael, who was a retired police officer and investigator. It was clear that Barnhill had no intention of investigating or seeking an arrest of the two men.
But, Georgia law indicates that a citizen’s arrest can only be made under narrow circumstances. The law reads:
“A private person may arrest an offender if the offense is committed in his presence or within his immediate knowledge. If the offense is a felony and the offender is escaping or attempting to escape, a private person may arrest him upon reasonable and probable grounds of suspicion.”
At most, Arbery’s presence in the construction site constitutes trespassing, which is considered a misdemeanor, not a felony under Georgia law. Robert Patillo, a Georgia-based criminal law attorney, points out that the state’s statutes did not give the McMichaels the right to pursue Arbery. He also addresses another argument being made by those who wish to place blame on the young man.
The anti-Arbery crowd claims that Travis McMichael was justified in shooting the young man because he grabbed McMichael’s shotgun. They argue that Travis’ actions constituted self-defense even though the two men admitted that they were attempting to corner Arbery while carrying guns.
In the video, Patillo notes that, “You cannot create the situation and bring a gun into the situation and then claim self-defense when you have a posse of three people with you in pickup trucks to stop an individual.” According to the police report and the McMichaels’ statements, they clearly initiated the incident that led to Arbery’s death.
Now that a special prosecutor has been appointed in the Arbery case, more details are likely to emerge regarding the shooting. Moreover, Glynn County’s law enforcement will be under further scrutiny due to its handling of the case. Despite the myths being circulated by those with a particular agenda, the truth is sure to come out. The question is: Will Arbery and his family receive justice?
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