The story of Ahmaud Arbery’s murder is even stranger and more unsettling than it first appeared to be.
The 25-year-old black man was shot and killed in February after two armed white men, 64-year-old Gregory McMichael and his son, Travis McMichael, 34, spotted Arbery jogging in their neighborhood and say they thought he matched the description of someone recently caught on camera burglarizing homes in the area. They chased him down and confronted him, and when he resisted, Travis McMichael shot him dead.
All of this was captured in a graphic video that was first posted online last week by a radio station in Brunswick, Ga. The source of the video, it turns out, was a local criminal defense attorney who had informally consulted with the McMichaels, both of whom were taken into custody Thursday on murder charges.
The attorney, Alan Tucker, didn’t take the video, but he apparently leaked it to the radio station because he thought it would make the McMichaels look better. Instead, it sparked widespread outrage and prompted the authorities to act. Investigators have said the video is a “very important piece” of evidence related to the criminal case against the McMichaels.
It’s not hard to see why. The video shows two armed men assaulting an unarmed man, who, when he tried to defend himself, gets killed.
Tucker, a friend of the McMichaels, somehow doesn’t see it that way. His comments in recent interviews beggar belief. He told one media outlet that if Arbery “had just froze and hadn’t done anything, he wouldn’t have gotten shot,” and that he leaked the video because he was “trying to stop a riot.”
In a statement to Georgia Public Broadcasting, he said he released the footage for the sake of “transparency” and to combat “false narratives.” His community, said Tucker, “was being ripped apart by erroneous accusations and assumptions.”
What exactly does Tucker mean by this? Well, he told The New York Times the video shows that, “It wasn’t two men with a Confederate flag in the back of a truck going down the road and shooting a jogger in the back.” No, Tucker, it was two armed white men in a truck intercepting a black jogger on the road and shooting him when he tried to defend himself—as anyone in Arbery’s position would have had the right to do.
It’s beyond question that the McMichaels alone created this situation. They’re the ones who confronted Arbery, and they were the ones holding the guns. Had they simply called the police and waited, Arbery would be alive today.
Indeed, it’s hard to imagine how Tucker, apparently a practicing attorney, could think the video does anything but incriminate the McMichaels. It’s even harder to imagine how Tucker or anyone else could think that the fault here lies with Arbery because he didn’t freeze when two armed men accosted him. Of course Arbery fought back. Had he been armed, he would have been within his rights to shoot the McMichaels in self-defense.
What’s even more disturbing that Tucker’s backwards reasoning is the fact that had he not leaked the video, the accused killers might have gotten away with it.
Two local prosecutors recused themselves from the case because the elder McMichael, a former cop, worked for years as an investigator in the district attorney’s office. Before recusing himself, Ware County DA George Barnhill reportedly advised the police there was insufficient probable cause to arrest the McMichaels because they had acted legally under Georgia’s citizen arrest and self-defense laws.
In a letter recusing himself from the case, Barnhill wrote, “It appears their intent was to stop and hold this criminal suspect until law enforcement arrived. Under Georgia law, this is perfectly legal.” He then goes on to describe what the video depicts, but interprets it as Arbery attacking Travis McMichael. “Given the fact Arbery initiated the fight, at the point Arbery grabbed the shotgun, under Georgia Law, McMichael was allowed to use deadly force to protect himself,” the letter states.
Or maybe Arbery “initiated the fight” because two armed men accosted him on the roadside.
More details are sure to surface in this case, but right now it looks like the DA was tying himself in legal knots in an effort to sweep this case under the rug. He might have succeeded if not for the ham-fisted actions of Tucker, who thought he was helping his friends by leaking the video.