The three men involved with the Feb. 23 killing of 25-year-old Ahmaud Arbery have plead “not guilty” to murder charges. The pleas come amid heightened racial tensions accompanied by riots and protests across the country related to unjust killings of black men. Arbery’s death was the first in a series of similar stories that kicked off the protests.
Gregory McMichael, 64, and his son, Travis, 34, were charged for murder and aggravated assault. William “Roddie” Bryn Jr., 50, was accused of murder and attempt to illegally detain and confine.
Gregory McMichael told law enforcement that he witnessed Arbery, a black man, running in his neighborhood outside of Brunswick and believed him to be a suspect in a rash of burglaries that had been committed in the community. He called out to his son Travis, instructing him to grab his firearm, and drove off in pursuit of Arbery.
Bryan later joined the chase in his car as the men attempted to box Arbery in. He recorded a video of the incident which shows the younger McMichael shooting Arbery after a struggle over the shotgun.
The judge accepted the men’s pleas, but no court date has been set for the trial. Bryan’s attorneys have several motions that are pending, including a request for bond. “Keeping him in jail isn’t going to accomplish anything,” Bryan’s attorney, Kevin Gough, told reporters. “Going in and out of jail is difficult because of the virus, and being in jail is tough with the virus.”
The video showing the killing of Arbery elicited nationwide outrage over the local government’s handling of the matter. The fact that the McMichaels were not arrested until after the footage surfaced seemed to be an indicator of bias in the county’s justice system.
Debates over the details of the case were prevalent on social media and the airwaves. There were several deceptive arguments that came about concerning the shooting and the events leading up to it. I covered some of these lies in the following video:
But during a preliminary hearing in early June, new information came out about the incident that does not cast the three men in a positive light. According to the testimony of GBI Special Agent in Charge Richard Dial, Bryan told investigators that he heard Travis McMichael call Arbery a “f*cking n*gger” after shooting him.
Dial also noted that there were “numerous times” that McMichael had used racial slurs on social media and through messaging services. In one case, he told someone he loved his job because there “weren’t any N-words anywhere.” In another instance before the shooting, he stated in an Instagram message that things would have been better if a person had “blown that N-word’s head off.” It is not clear to whom McMichael was referring.
The special agent indicated that Bryan had also made “racial” terms that might demonstrate that he prejudged Arbery when he saw the McMichaels chasing him. “There’s evidence of Mr. Bryan’s racist attitude in his communications, and from that I extrapolate the reason why he made assumptions he did that day,” he explained. “He saw a man running down the road with a truck following him, and I believe he made certain assumptions that were, at least in part, based upon his racial bias.”
When asked whether he thought Travis McMichael could have shot Arbery in self defense, Dial argued that it was Arbery who was trying to defend himself. “I believe Mr. Arbery was being pursued, and he ran till he couldn’t run anymore, and it was turn his back to a man with a shotgun or fight with his bare hands against the man with the shotgun. He chose to fight,” he said. “I believe Mr. Arbery’s decision was to just try to get away, and when he felt like he could not escape he chose to fight.”
Bryan’s attorney asserted that his client was not involved in the actual killing. But Dial pointed out that Bryan shouted, “Do you got him?” to the McMichaels when he saw them chasing the 25-year-old. According to the prosecution, Bryan struck Arbery with his vehicle while trying to help the McMichaels box him in.
This case will be significant as it is one of the reasons why race has dominated the national conversation since April. The attorneys represented the three men have not yet provided their counter-arguments, but when the trial begins, we will see whether or not the McMichaels and Bryan will have a chance of being found not guilty. But it will be interesting to see how the eventual verdict — either way it goes — will impact the culture.
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