The shooting death of Ahmaud Arbery has been called a ‘modern lynching,’ and millions – including LeBron James, Justin Bieber, and Joe Biden – are demanding justice. Here’s what you need to know.
UPDATE (5/7/2020, 9:00 PM ET): “Gregory & Travis McMichael have been arrested for the murder of Ahmaud Arbery,” the Georgia Bureau of Investigation announced on May 7. The charges for murder and aggravated assault were made after countless celebrities and people demanded justice for Ahmaud, who was running in a neighborhood and fatally shot after he was chased down by Gregory, 64, and his 34-year-old son, Travis, on Feb. 23. They’ve been taken into custody and will be booked into Glynn County Jail, the GBI reported.
ORIGINAL: Ahmaud Arbery went out for a jog on Feb. 23 and didn’t come back alive. Ahmaud, 25, was running through a quiet neighborhood in Brunswick, Georgia, when two armed men — Gregory McMichael, 64, and his son, Travis McMichael, 34, — got into a white pickup truck to chase him down. Gregory, a former police officer and former investigator with the local district attorney’s office, told Glynn County police officers that he thought Ahmaud (who is pictured above with his mom Wanda Cooper-Jones) matched the description of a suspect in a series of recent break-ins, according to the Washington Post. During the chase, the McMichaels reportedly yelled, “Stop, stop, we want to talk to you.” During a physical confrontation, Gregory claims Ahmaud “began to violently attack” and attempted to fight Travis over his shotgun. Travis reportedly fired his gun, and Ahmaud fell, dying on the pavement from his wounds.
No arrests have been made, or charges filed over the shooting. The outrage over this case went nationwide on Tuesday (May 5) after a cellphone video surfaced online. Lawyers for Ahmaud’s family claim that this shows his dying moments. In the graphic footage, Ahmaud and the McMichaels have their physical altercation. Three shots are heard, and Ahmaud is seen stumbling before falling dead to the ground. Many questioned why there hasn’t been an investigation into this incident two months after it happened. As the case unfolds, here’s what you need to know.
1. Ahmaud Arbery was a high school athlete. Described as a “former high school football standout” by The New York Times, Ahmaud was living outside the small city of Brunswick with his mother. Friends and family said that he “liked to stay in good shape,” and he was often seen jogging in and around his neighborhood.
2. A new prosecutor out of Atlanta is handling the case. Shortly after the shooting, the prosecutor for the Brunswick Judicial Circuit recused herself because Gregory McMichael worked in her officer, per the New York Times. The D.A. for Waycross, GA, George E. Barnhill, eventually recused himself after Ahmaud’s mother publicly argued that there was a conflict of interest (since George had also worked for the D.A.’s office.)
Before relinquishing the case, the New York Times reports Mr. Barnhill wrote to the Glynn County Police Department, arguing that there “was not sufficient probable cause” to arrest the McMichaels, and argued that the two were “allowed to use deadly force” to protect themselves under Georgia law.
He also reportedly argued that Ahmaud had prior convictions (the New York Times reports that Ahmaud was convicted of shoplifting and violating probation in 2018 and that in 2013, he was allegedly indicted on charges for taking a handgun to a high school basketball game.) He said these priors might “help explain his apparent aggressive nature and his possible thought pattern to attack an armed man.”
With two previous prosecutors recusing themselves, prosecutor Tom Durden, of Georgia’s Atlantic Judicial Circuit, is now handling the case. He says that a grand jury should decide whether criminal charges are warranted for those involved in Ahmaud’s death.
3. His family has called the shooting death a “modern lynching.” Lee Merritt, an attorney for Arbery’s mother, didn’t shy away from using racially-loaded language in describing the killing. “These men were vigilantes, they were a posse, and they performed a modern lynching in the middle of the day,” said the attorney, according to The Guardian.
4. Demonstrators are running 2.23 miles in support. Though the COVID-19 outbreak has damped mass gatherings, people are still protesting the lack of arrests over his killing. Activists have organized #IRunWithMaud, and they are asking supporters to run 2.23 miles (the date of his death) as a way to voice their anger.
5. Many celebrities have called for justice for Ahmaud Arbery on social media. The killing of Ahmaud and lack of perceivable action by the Georgia authorities have left many furious, including LeBron James. “We’re literally hunted EVERYDAY/EVERYTIME we step foot outside the comfort of our homes!” the NBA star captioned a picture of Ahmaud that has gone viral. This anger was shared by Naomi Campbell (“Please let’s not forget this young Man’s name Ahmaud Arbery”), Justin Bieber (Praying for the family mourning the loss of Ahmaud Arbery. Also praying for justice!”), Justin Timberlake (“If you’re not outraged, you should be”) and more celebrities.
The video is clear: Ahmaud Arbery was killed in cold blood. My heart goes out to his family, who deserve justice and deserve it now. It is time for a swift, full, and transparent investigation into his murder. https://t.co/alvY5WjdHx
— Joe Biden (@JoeBiden) May 6, 2020
“What do you see when you cast your eyes on us?” asked Gabrielle Union. “We are worthy of peace, joy, grace, compassion, and every damn protection we are afforded by existing. We shot past sick and tired a long time ago. May God hold Ahmaud Arbery’s family and loved ones up to the light of goodness and hold them there. We keep fighting. We will not stop. There will be justice.
“The video is clear: Ahmaud Arbery was killed in cold blood,” tweeted presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden. “My heart goes out to his family, who deserve justice and deserve it now. It is time for a swift, full, and transparent investigation into his murder.”