Two Months After His Death, Ahmaud Arbery's Killers Have Been Arrested

Photo credit: SEAN RAYFORD - Getty Images
Photo credit: SEAN RAYFORD - Getty Images

From Harper's BAZAAR

On a brilliant February afternoon, Ahmaud Arbery, a young Black man, was jogging near his home in Satilla Shores, Georgia, when he encountered two white men, a father-and-son duo who were brandishing guns and following him in a pickup truck. There was a brief altercation, in which one of the men and Arbery struggled for control of a shotgun. Shots were fired, and Arbery was soon dead. He was 25 years old.

His killers weren't arrested until two months after his death.

The incident and subsequent prolonging of prosecution has sparked rallying cries for justice across the country, gaining new traction after video footage of the incident surfaced online. The father and son, Gregory and Travis McMichael, wrongly suspected that Arbery was the culprit behind recent break-ins in the neighborhood. Gregory, a former police officer and a former investigator for the local prosecutor in Brunswick, and Travis were arrested on Wednesday, May 6, and were both charged with murder and aggravated assault.

Arbery was unarmed at the time of the incident.

A police officer noted the following in the incident report, as published by The New York Times.

McMichael stated he was in his front yard and saw the suspect from the break-ins “hauling ass” down Satilla Drive toward Burford Drive. McMichael stated he then ran inside his house and called to Travis (McMichael) and said, “Travis, the guy is running down the street, let’s go.” McMichael stated he went to his bedroom and grabbed his .357 Magnum and Travis grabbed his shotgun because they "didn’t know if the male was armed or not.” McMichael stated, “the other night” they saw the same male and he stuck his hands down his pants which lead them to believe the male was armed.

Arbery was unarmed at the time of his death.

Photo credit: Sean Rayford - Getty Images
Photo credit: Sean Rayford - Getty Images

Why did it take so long for someone to be arrested for his death?

No arrests or charges were made until two months after the fatal shooting. Tom Durden, the prosecutor handling the case, has expressed that he will submit evidence to a grand jury hearing after June 12, the date when Georgia's social distancing restrictions will be lifted. Under a grand jury, criminal charges will be considered as they determine whether or not there is enough evidence, or probable cause, to indict Arbery's pursuers.

The original prosecutor for the case recused herself since the elder McMichael had worked in her office. George Barnhill, the case's second prosecutor, also recused himself at the request of Arbery's mother. She allegedly claimed he had a conflict of interest since his son worked for the same district attorney as Gregory.

However, before he officially recused himself, he wrote a letter to a captain of the Glynn County Police Department, per the Times, revealing that he believed the McMichaels' shooting to be legally justified due to the state's self-defense and citizen's arrest laws. "It appears Travis McMichael, Greg McMichael and Bryan Williams were following in 'hot pursuit,' a burglary suspect, with solid first hand probable cause, in their neighborhood, and asking/telling him to stop," 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."

Michael Moore, a former U.S. attorney in Georgia, told the Times that Barnhill's argument and interpretation of the state's self-defense laws were flawed. "The law does not allow a group of people to form an armed posse and chase down an unarmed person who they believe might have possibly been the perpetrator of a past crime," he told the publication.

While Arbery's family waits in limbo, politicians, activists, celebrities, athletes, and the general public are demanding justice for his death, which many see as yet another example of the way Black lives are unfairly brutalized, discarded, and forgotten within the United States' legal system. The case is also reminiscent of other high-profile shootings in recent years, in which unarmed Black men were shot dead while their killers often walked free.

Arbery was a former football player. His mother told reporters that at the time of his death, he was pursuing a career as an electrician.

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