Ahmaud Arbery would have been celebrating his 26th birthday today, May 8. But he was murdered. The black Georgia man was out for a jog on the afternoon of Feb. 23 when two white men, who allegedly thought Ahmaud was a burglar, chased him down and brutally shot and killed him. The entirety of the horrific shooting was caught on camera. Take caution before watching the video. It is truly horrifying.
The disturbing cell phone footage was leaked online this past week, causing a justified frenzy of outrage over the 21st-century lynching. Coincidentally — or not — the arrest was made just days after the leaked video caused public fury. Father and son duo Gregory and Travis McMichael were charged on May 7 with murdering and assaulting Ahmaud — over two months after the killing. And this is despite the fact that unlike the family of Ahmaud, police have had access to the video since the day of the incident. If the video hadn’t been leaked, there’s no telling when and if an arrest would have ever been made.
The Truth Comes Out
The footage begins by showing Ahmaud leisurely jogging through a neighborhood in shorts and a T-shirt in Brunswick, Georgia. Any viewer can clearly see he was in no way “hauling ass” down the street, as Gregory described to police. Gregory claimed he was at home when he saw Ahmaud run by, which prompted him to alert his son Travis to grab their guns and hop in a truck with William “Roddy” Bryan to chase after Ahmaud and save the day.
The McMichaels claimed that once they caught up to Ahmaud, they yelled for him to stop, but he kept running — as if somehow, this verbal command from a fellow citizen justified the following action. The McMichaels told police they tried to block his path forward, but Ahmaud ran in the opposite direction, as anyone would likely do if a truck full of armed men chased them down. Once they pulled up to him again, Travis jumped out of the truck to confront Ahmaud.
Gregory, Travis’ father, claimed Ahmaud began violently attacking Travis, who responded by shooting him with his shotgun, but the video contradicts this narrative. It appears as though Ahmaud is simply running around the truck toward Travis, perhaps trying to grab his gun. As soon as they appear to be close enough to make physical contact, a shot is immediately fired. Then two more quickly followed. Ahmaud stumbled to his death shortly after. The official police incident report documents only two shots despite the fact there were clearly three.
Glynn County Police Department, the law enforcement that responded to the scene and wrote the incident report, is also Gregory’s former employer. The former cop retired last May, but also worked as an investigator for the office of local District Attorney Jackie Johnson, causing plenty of conflicts of interest. Johnson recused herself from prosecuting the case, as did the next assigned prosecutor, George Barnhill, whose son worked for Johnson. But not without brazen retort.
In his recusal letter, Barnhill accused Ahmaud’s mother of making “unfounded allegations of bias” and said there is no conflict of interest. However, a work relationship between a prosecutor’s son and a possible suspect is legitimately concerning, making Barnhill’s argument odd. Barnhill then proceeded to defend the McMichaels, which is completely uncalled for. He boldly alleged the McMichaels had “solid firsthand probable cause” to go after Ahmaud and assumed that “their intent was to stop and hold this criminal suspect until law enforcement arrived,” which is “perfectly legal.” He went even further to point out that the guns were legal, and in his view, the McMichaels should not be arrested.
Barnhill’s response is quite shocking, especially because it’s an opinion in support of the McMichaels, alongside an argument claiming he’s unbiased, all within a recusal letter. It wasn’t up to him, however. The Georgia Bureau of Investigation disagreed with Barnhill when they arrested and charged the McMichaels.
McMichaels Will Get Due Process Ahmaud Arbery Didn’t
In the court of public opinion, it appears the McMichaels are guilty, and evidence points toward racial bias. White men certainly don’t have to fear for their lives when they leave their house for a run, to put it simply. But the McMichaels will be afforded the right of due process in the criminal justice system to determine their fate, a right they stole from Ahmaud.
Regardless of a conviction or not, one should consider: What reasonable person decides to chase down, with a loaded gun, another human who they merely suspect of wrongdoing? Gregory McMichael and his cohorts might have thought they were playing a heroic role in getting a “bad guy” off the streets, but they instead robbed an innocent man of his right to life, justice, and due process.
Some, like Barnhill, may argue the McMichaels were justified because Ahmaud might have been breaking into people’s homes, but it doesn’t matter. That wasn’t proved by any means at the time of his death, and no matter what the truth is, they had no right to gun him down in the street because he was a black man on a run.
Gregory may have temporarily forgotten, but he was no longer an armed police officer at the time of the incident. He didn’t have a valiant duty of protecting and serving, like he once did before retirement. If he was truly concerned about the safety and wellbeing of his neighbors from the potential threat this black jogger imposed, he should have called police, which is the typical response to supposed danger, and could have merely followed Ahmaud in his truck to help the police find him and monitor activity from a peaceful distance.
Instead, he made a terrible decision to confront Ahmaud himself, armed and ready for violence, which led to the fateful end of Ahmaud’s life.
People are faced with difficult decisions every day. A person’s choice paired with freedom to act is something powerful beyond measure. It was one man’s decision that led to Ahmaud’s death. One different choice — perhaps a call to police or a peaceful observance — could have preserved Ahmaud’s life and justice.
However, there is no turning the clock back now. Ahmaud lost his life, and the world will remember his name. It is paramount that we never stop fighting racism and injustice in the criminal system. If we don’t, the awaiting outcome is more cases like Ahmaud’s.