The killing of the Ahmaud Arbery, 26, who was shot while jogging in a residential upscale neighborhood outside Atlanta, Georgia on February 23 is revealing layers of racism and cronyism by the police and prosecutors in Glynn county that is unfortunately all too common in the US. Arbery is black and the two men who had blocked the street with their truck and confronted Arbery before killing him are white. The event was captured in this video.
I am trembling with anger over what I just witnessed. CLICK AWAY if you need to.
We need ALL HANDS ON DECK.
This is the lynching of Ahmaud Arbery.
It’s one of the worst things I’ve seen in my entire life.
— Shaun King (@shaunking) May 5, 2020
There was always something strange about this whole case and the video. Why was no one charged for over two months for killing an unarmed man on a public street? It also did not look like the was taken by a random person who happened to be driving by but by someone who was following Arbery or the men in the truck. Why? Who took the video and what was their connection to the victim or the killers? Also why was the video released only on May 5th, causing an uproar, and leading finally to the arrest of the two men? Who finally leaked the video and why?
More answers are coming out and the picture is not pretty. The two men are a father and son, Gregory and Travis McMichael, and the father was a former police officer who had previously worked for 25 years with the Brunswick district attorney’s office and it was that DA Jackie Johnson, who knew McMichael well, who had blocked the police from arresting the two men for the killing. She then recused herself from the case and the next DA George Barnhill took over on February 27 and after viewing the video concluded within 24 hours that the shooting was ‘justifiable homicide’ and hence no arrest or prosecution was warranted.
On April 7, Barnhill also recused himself because his son had been working on a prior case involving Arbery. A third DA was then brought in who, after the video was released publicly on Tuesday May 5, called in the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (a state agency, not a local one) and they are the ones who ordered the arrest within 36 hours.
There is now finger-pointing and blame shifting between the police, the DAs, and other local authorities.
Brunswick DA Jackie Johnson’s office allegedly prevented the Glynn County Police Department from arresting Travis and Gregory McMichael in connection with the shooting death of Arbery, an unarmed black man, in late February, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported. Johnson has recused herself from that case. But one Glynn County commissioner suggested she personally intervened in early plans to make arrests “to protect her friend” Gregory McMichael. McMichael was a former cop and investigator in the Brunswick DA’s office for 25 years who had reportedly investigated Arbery in the past.
And here’s more deflection .
The second district attorney assigned to evaluate the killing of Ahmaud Arbery, an unarmed black man shot while jogging by two white men, initially called it “justifiable homicide,” according to a statement from Glynn County released on Saturday. The two-page statement defends the heavily criticized Glynn County Police Department and deflects blame to two district attorneys, who they say prevented police from making arrests in the case. Two Glynn County Commissioners made a similar claim on Friday.
District Attorney George Barnhill, from Georgia’s Waycross Judicial Circuit District, concluded there was insufficient evidence for arrest warrants and charges after taking over the case from the Brunswick District Attorney Jackie Johnson. Barnhill ultimately recused himself from the case because Gregory McMichael had worked in the attorney’s office years prior.
But what about the video? That story is even stranger. It appears that the video was made available to the police soon after the shooting but it had been leaked just last week to a local news outlet. The leaker was revealed to be a local attorney who said that he had been consulting with the person who took the video and thought that it would exonerate the shooters.
The video — which by Friday officials had described as “a very important piece” of evidence in moving forward with criminal charges — was first posted by WGIG, a local radio station in Brunswick, Ga., which said it had obtained the footage from an anonymous source.
But in a twist emblematic of the small-town politics that have defined the case, that source turned out to be a criminal defense lawyer in town who had informally consulted with the suspects.
The lawyer, Alan Tucker, said in an interview on Friday that the video had come from the cellphone of a man who had filmed the episode and that he later gave the footage to the radio station. Mr. Tucker’s role was confirmed by Scott Ryfun, who oversees the station’s programming.
Asked why he had leaked the video, Mr. Tucker said he had wanted to dispel rumors that he said had fueled tension in the community. “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,” Mr. Tucker said.
“It got the truth out there as to what you could see,” he added. “My purpose was not to exonerate them or convict them.”
Mr. Tucker said he would not be representing anyone else involved in the case, as the authorities announced on Friday that they were pursuing a number of leads, including investigating the man who took the video.
The man, Roddie Bryan, lives in the neighborhood. He had shared the video with the police before sharing it with Mr. Tucker and was cooperating with the authorities, his lawyer, Kevin Gough, said in an interview Friday evening.
“Mr. Bryan has never tried to hide anything from anybody,” Mr. Gough said. “If anybody wanted a copy of the video, he would give it to them.”
But he said the added attention, including the scrutiny from the authorities, had come as a shock to his client, a mechanic who had since lost his job and received threats. “The atmosphere down here is very volatile,” Mr. Gough said. “People are in fear. That’s all a result of the last few days.”
We now have the next stage in such cases, where people try to dig up and release negative stories about the victim’s past even if it has little to do with the case.
Officials are now promising a full investigation.
Have we now come to the stage when we need to see people actually die on video before people even get charged, let along convicted? Natasha Lennard argues that very often even that is not be enough.
THE MCMICHAELS HAVE been charged, but the existence of a damning video is no assurance that the state will find them guilty. The racist logic of Georgia’s “stand-your-ground” laws may well determine that the father and son were justified in claiming self-defense against the black man they pursued. We know by now that the white men in these cases get to be the “self” deemed worthy of defense; Arbery was accorded no such selfhood, no such presumption of a life worth defending. Video evidence does not change that.
We watched Philando Castille bleed out in his car after he was shot by a cop, as his desperate girlfriend filmed; we watched Eric Garner gasp for breath as a New York police officer choked the life out of him; we watched Tamir Rice, aged 12, be gunned down by police as they leapt from their cruiser. None of the cops in these filmed killings were convicted; most weren’t even charged. Videos of black people being summarily executed are hardly rare. And hardly ever do killer cops and racist vigilantes face significant consequences.
The circulation of intolerable scenes of brutality against black people remains necessary. Without it, there is rarely public and official recognition that the taking of a black life, simply because of the person’s blackness, is an injustice. Yet such recognition is no assurance of justice.
Lennard’s pessimism is not misplaced. Here is comedian and acerbic social critic Richard Pryor on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson way back in 1974.
The visceral reaction among some people to the sight of black men running may have even deeper roots. In that excellent book The War Before the War by historian Andrew Delbanco about the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 and how it helped set in motion the Civil War, we read how black men during the period of slavery were expected to not walk normally, let alone stride along, because moving quickly might be a sign that they were trying to get away from their owners or, at the very least, were acting uppity. They were expected to shuffle along, showing the proper level of obsequiousness.
We have not progressed much since those days.