Arbery was out for a run on February 23, 2020 when a pair of white vigilantes followed him in a truck, believing he was a suspected burglar. The two men, Gregory McMichael and his son Travis McMichael, were armed with a .357 magnum revolver and a shotgun. When they caught up with Arbery they allegedly tried to make a citizen’s arrest and Travis got out of the car with his shotgun, resulting in a struggle between him and Arbery. In the graphic video, three gunshots are heard and eventually, Arbery tries to run away but he tumbles to the ground.
It’s not clear who was recording the video of the incident, but the brutal footage sparked outrage with many people characterizing it as a lynching.
“Ahmaud Arbery’s murder was caught on video! It’s graphic but must be shared,” tweeted attorney Benjamin Crump, who said Ben Crump Law group will be representing Ahmaud’s father, Marcus Arbery. “We seek justice in this modern-day lynching. Everyone must know the truth! #JusticeforAhmaudArbery.“
Much of the outrage revolves around Gregory and Travis McMichael still being free men. The case was filled with bias from the start, considering Gregory is a former police officer and a retired investigator for the district attorney.
According to The Brunswick News, the case has already gone through three district attorney offices. Brunswick Judicial Circuit DA Jackie Johnson immediately claimed conflict of interest, pointing to Gregory McMichael’s more than 20 years of work with her office. The case was then assigned to Ware County DA, George Barnhill, who eventually had to recuse himself after Arbery’s mom, Wanda Cooper, found out that Barnhill’s son works in the Brunswick district attorney’s office, which had previously employed Gregory.
Even when Barnhill was attached to the case, he told cops that the pursuers had acted within the scope of Georgia’s citizen’s arrest statute. In a letter to the Glynn County Police Department, he argued that Gregory and his son had been legally carrying their weapons under Georgia law and because Arbery was a “burglary suspect,” they had “solid firsthand probable cause” to chase Arbery under the state’s citizen’s arrest law. Barnhill then argued that Travis had acted in self defense when he shot Arbery.
Barnhill even tried to criminalize Arbery early on, bringing up his past record to cops. Court documents show that he was convicted of shoplifting and of violating probation in 2018, according to The New York Times. Five years earlier, Arbery was also indicted on accusations that he took a handgun to a high school basketball game. In his letter, Barnhill argued, “Arbery’s mental health records & prior convictions help explain his apparent aggressive nature and his possible thought pattern to attack an armed man.”
Now that Barnhill has left the case, it was reassigned to Tom Durden, in the city of Hinesville, Georgia. Durden said this week “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,” according to The Brunswick News. However, Durden said that grand juries are currently not being called because of the coronavirus pandemic. The freeze on empaneling grand juries will continue through June 12, at least.
A petition has already been created online, demanding Durden bring murder charges against Gregory and Travis McMichael while the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation take on the case as a hate crime.
Meanwhile, protestors are calling on Gregory and Travis to be arrested, and leaders are calling on Barnhill to resign as a district attorney.
Lawyer Exavier Pope explained via a tweet:
“District Attorney who initially recused himself George E. Barnhill clearly had no interest in pursuing justice, attacking Ahmaud Arbery’s family, defending his own reputation, & having saw same video as us, justified lynching. He doesn’t deserve to practice law a day longer.”
Another person with a legal background echoed Pope’s sentiments. Georgia state representative Scott Holcomb called Barnhill’s letter “pathetic.”
Referring to the letter, Holcomb explained in a tweet, “I’m a former prosecutor and I don’t say this lightly: this reads like he’s a defense attorney for the men who shot and killed Ahmaud Arbery. It’s a pathetic excuse for a legal memo.”
Georgia NAACP President James Woodall called on both Barnhill and Jackie Johnson to resign. “Any rational person knows that Ahmad Arbery was murdered in broad daylight,” he wrote in a tweet. “District Attorneys Jackie Johnson [Brunswick] AND George Barnhill [Waycross] should not only resign but be disbarred as well. This is grave malpractice and criminal complicity.”
The ACLU of Georgia compared Arbery’s killing to that of Trayvon Martin, the Black teenager who was killed by a neighborhood watch volunteer over unfounded suspicions.
“The vigilante behavior that we saw in Brunswick is unacceptable in a civilized society. We call on the officials in Brunswick to enforce the rule of law so that it can be safe for citizens to walk the streets,” Andrea Young, executive director of the ACLU of Georgia, explained in a statement. “Ahmaud was killed three days before the anniversary of the 2012 killing of Trayvon Martin. Both incidents are a reminder that white supremacy has been a foundation for our country and leads repeatedly to the targeting and harming people of color, particularly African Americans.”