By Bryan 18X Crawford Contributing Writer @Asiatic18X
Stills from video that captures a few moments prior to the fatal shooting of Ahmaud Arbery in Brunswick, Ga. on Feb. 23. Gregory McMichael and his 34-year-old son Travis were charged with murder and aggravated assault in a shocking encounter that left the young, Black man dead.
Seventy-four days. That’s how long it took for two White men to be arrested for the murder of 25-year-old Ahmaud Arbery in Brunswick, Ga. Sixty-four-year-old Gregory McMichael and his 34-year-old son Travis were charged with murder and aggravated assault in a shocking encounter that left another unarmed Black man dead at the hands of White men with firearms.
The arrest May 7 came one day after a video of the incident was leaked to social media; a video that had been in the possession of authorities, but sealed under the excuse that it could not be released due to an ongoing investigation.
When the video began circulating online, it was unclear who recorded it and who released it. And while it’s been speculated that a third witness, William “Roddie” Bryan, is the person who may have filmed Ahmaud’s last moments alive, Alan Tucker, an attorney from Brunswick, admitted to being in possession of the video and releasing it to the public.
In a statement, Atty. Tucker, who isn’t representing anyone involved in this case, explained why he made the decision to leak the controversial and damning video.
“I released the video of the shooting on February 23 in Satilla Shores. There had been very little information provided by the police department or the district attorney’s office, but there was entirely too much speculation, rumor, false narratives, and outright lies surrounding this event,” Mr. Tucker wrote in his statement, adding, “I didn’t release this to ‘show that they did nothing wrong’ as is being circulated … My sole purpose in releasing this video was absolute transparency because my community was being ripped apart by erroneous accusations and assumptions.”
As this case gained national attention in a few days, after months of inaction by local authorities, the video release sparked a new wave of outrage; not just in and around the Brunswick community, but throughout the state of Georgia, and in Black communities around the country tired of seeing Black men and women brutally and senselessly killed by Whites with what feels like impunity.
It seems unthinkable, even in the face of a pandemic, that it would take more than two months to simply make an arrest and file charges in a murder case; particularly because if the roles were reversed. If two armed Black men were accused of following, confronting and killing an unarmed White man, an arrest would have been made and charges would’ve been filed immediately, Blacks said.
Protestors came to the Glynn County Courthouse in Brunswick, Ga., with family members and others saying May 8 the arrests weren’t enough and a full probe and justice were needed.
Around the country, the hashtag #IRunWithMaud circulated widely as runners and joggers showed photos of themselves out and about showing support for the young man who ran down a street, was pursued and was shot to death.
“Another huge WIN for #JusticeForAhmaud! At the family’s demand— a special prosecutor will replace Tom Durden the S. GA prosecutor that sat on the case until video of Ahmaud’s murder was leaked. Joyette Holmes is out of @cobbcountygovt. Her office is being reviewed for conflicts,” said Lee Merritt, a lawyer working on the case in a May 11 Twitter post.
A father’s anguish and an old double standard?
“If me and Ahmaud pursued McMichael’s son and killed him, we’d have been arrested on the spot,” said Marcus Arbery, Ahmaud’s father during a virtual press conference. Mr. Arbery added, “And if we’d have gotten away with it [once they found out], they would’ve had police with guns around our house, ready to kill us. It’s just not fair.”
“If the shoe was on the other foot, would this be charged as a hate crime? There’s a lot of people who believe that there are two justice systems in America: one for Black America, and one for White America. We believe that is something that has played out in the history of South Georgia,” said Atty. Benjamin Crump who is representing Marcus Arbery in this case.
“But the bigger question is what is there to consider? You have a video—you have ocular proof—of people hunting a young man while he’s jogging; while he’s exercising. They have a shotgun, and they have a .357 Magnum. What else is there to consider?” Mr. Crump went on to say.
“Stevie Wonder can see that this is not something that should be acceptable in our society; where people can profile individuals based on the color of their skin, and act on that prejudiced thought to say we’re going to be the police … White people cannot take matters into their own hands when they see people of color living, breathing, walking, jogging, or driving.”
The Georgia Bureau of Investigation made the arrests one day after starting their own investigation at the request of Tom Durden, the third District Attorney to be assigned this case after the first two recused themselves citing a conflict of interest. Since the release of the video and the momentum behind this case has grown, Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden said Ahmaud Arbery was “lynched before our very eyes.”
Georgia Governor Brian Kemp said the video of the shooting was, “Absolutely horrific, and Georgians deserve answers.”
Outrage over Ahmaud’s killing
Reactions from across the country poured in particularly since the video of Ahmaud’s killing was released. Prominent figures and diverse public figures commented on the shooting.
Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James posted a picture of Ahmaud on his Twitter account— saying, “We’re literally hunted EVERYDAY/EVERYTIME we step foot outside the comfort of our homes!” He sent prayers and blessings to the Arbery family, with the hashtag “Profiled Cause We Are Simply Black.”
Coco Gauff, a 16-year-old professional tennis player, posted a picture of Ahmaud on Twitter, saying, “The violence needs to stop. The profiling and racial injustice needs to stop.”
Former presidential candidate Bernie Sanders also weighed in, posting this to Twitter: “The men who murdered Ahmaud Arbery must be held accountable and there must be justice for Ahmaud’s family. There is no doubt in my mind that Ahmaud would be alive today if he were white.”
Ciara, Common, Jermaine Dupri, Big Boi and Justin Timberlake were among other celebrities that posted about the case on social media.
Rapper T.I. posted an image to Twitter, with the Liberty County District Attorney’s Office contact information, so more people could call and demand the McMichaels’ be charged.
He captioned it, “IT WONT STOP UNTIL WE STOP IT‼️#USorELSE #JusticeForAhmaud.”
LL Cool J posted the same image, hashtagging it #IrunwithMaud #NotForgotten.
And while the McMichaels are currently in police custody, the call for justice on the ground in Georgia and nationally has grown increasingly louder in the face of not only systemic racism, but the Blue Wall of Silence and the inherent racism of the Deep South.
“That’s the ‘Good ‘Ole Boy Network’ working down there. And the pressure that’s being put on them now is the only reason you’re starting to see them act,” Abdul Sharrieff Muhammad, the Nation of Islam’s Southern Region Representative and minister of Muhammad Mosque No. 15 in Atlanta, told The Final Call. Mr. Muhammad’s grandson lives in the Brunswick area and was friends with Ahmaud.
Gregory McMichael, 64, (left) and Travis McMichael, 34 (right); father and son arrested in connection to the death of Ahmaud Arbery, who was shot and killed while jogging on a residential street in south Georgia. Photos: MGN Online
“It’s corrupt from the root down there. That’s why they felt they could do that and get away with it,” Min. Sharrieff Muhammad added.
The young, Black members of the Brunswick community, by some accounts, were on the verge of an uprising. They mobilized and began protests that ultimately remained peaceful, but the anger and frustration was palpable.
“Once the video was released, we went from anger, to hurt, to sad, to livid,” Odis Muhammad, who leads a Nation of Islam Study Group in the Brunswick area, told The Final Call. “I had so many of my friends tell me they were afraid because they have 18- and 20-year-old sons, and they didn’t even want to send them to the store anymore out of fear that something like this could happen. This has been a terrorizing experience for Black people in Brunswick. We’re used to hearing about it in Atlanta, or Washington, D.C., or New York. But right here in Brunswick, Ga.? Nobody escapes. This has been a very painful and sad experience.”
A mother mourns her son
Ahmaud Arbery was the youngest of three children born to Wander Cooper. Since her son’s death, she has made the decision to leave the Brunswick area and return to her hometown of Augusta which is three hours to the north. Ms. Cooper says she has not seen the video of her son’s murder and has no plans to ever view it.
“I had Ahmaud on Mother’s Day, 1994. He was the baby of the family, but Ahmaud was his older sister and brother’s keeper. He had such loyalty. His spirit was good. He was the most humble young man you could ever meet. He was very mannerable because that’s the way I raised him. Ahmaud didn’t deserve to go out the way he went out. He did not deserve that at all,” Ms. Cooper said, before adding, “I haven’t seen the video at all. I don’t think I’ll ever reach the mental capacity to ever watch the video. I saw my son come into the world. And seeing him leave the world is not something that I want to see, ever.”
Racial tensions between Black and White in the deep South is interwoven into the fabric of people’s very existence. And in the wake of Ahmaud’s death, those feelings of tension and animosity were brought back in the crudest of ways. It’s worth noting that Gregory McMichael, a former area police officer, was the investigator in 2013 when Ahmaud Arbery was charged with bringing a gun to a high school basketball game that he was later given probation for.
In his letter of recusal to Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr, George Barnhill, the original prosecutor on this case, wrote, “This family are not strangers to the local criminal justice system. From best we can tell, Ahmaud’s older brother has gone to prison in the past and is currently in the Glynn jail, without bond, awaiting new felony prosecution. It also appears a cousin has been prosecuted by DA [Katherine] Johnson’s office.”
Ahmaud Arbery with his mother, Wanda Cooper.
Mr. Barnhill seemed to justify the actions of Gregory and Travis McMichael based solely on Ahmaud’s minor criminal infractions that were only revealed publicly after his death, and incidents that occurred with members of his family.
These days, racist Whites in the South no longer hide behind hoods and sheets, said some Blacks. Instead, Whites use the power of the pen, and the cover of the Internet to spew their vitriol, they said. Both happened in this case, they added.
“We found some troubling things online. Like Gregory McMichael bragging that his son was the shooter,” said Atty. Lee Merritt who is representing Ms. Cooper.
“We’re seeing White people posting on Facebook saying that they agree with what the McMichaels did because Ahmaud probably was a thug and a criminal,” added Odis Muhammad.
“It’s shocking that law enforcement would try to indict and criminalize everybody except the killers,” Atty. Crump said.
However, Odis Muhammad also said there are some Whites in the community who feel this incident has created a sense of shame. Brunswick had a reputation for moving more easily into integration with Blacks in South than in other parts of Georgia and other states.
“I feel like the White community is embarrassed because this is such a heinous crime committed by one of theirs; somebody from their community,” Odis Muhammad explained. “In the rallies I’ve attended, there are White people there and I feel they sympathize with this situation. It’s such an embarrassment for their community, to have somebody do something so ridiculous, and a life is lost. So, we’re seeing some support from some White people in Brunswick.”
On the other hand, fundraisers have been setup to raise money for the McMichaels, saying they were defending themselves.
Thea Brooks, Ahmaud’s aunt, said she wants the McMichaels held until grand juries reconvene. She organized a protest the day the video of Ahmaud’s killing came out. She said when she first saw the video, it was very heartbreaking.
“I wanted to do an organized protest and a rally with leaders and people to speak, because the day when the video dropped, that kind of was based off emotion,” she said. “Everybody was mad, they was upset.” Even after news of the arrest was made public, demonstrations continued in Brunswick on May 8.
The killing of Ahmaud Arbery has largely stoked a sense of outrage in Black people, not just in Georgia, but across the country. Not only is there mental and emotional fatigue of seeing another young Black man killed apparently doing nothing wrong, breaking no laws and committing no crimes, there’s also a lack of faith in the justice system to give these men the same punishment that would’ve been assessed had a Black man taken the life of a White person.
“We know that the coronavirus has presented some challenges, but now they say we have to wait until June 12 before a grand jury is empaneled. Well, as Dr. Martin Luther King said, ‘Justice delayed is justice denied,’” said Atty. Crump. Atty. Merritt explained that the Georgia Supreme Court has temporarily suspended any grand jury from being convened due to the coronavirus.
However, both attorneys said it has been upsetting to see how this case has been handled from the very beginning.
“These men were not performing any police function, or any duty as a citizen of the state of Georgia. These men were vigilantes, they formed a posse, and performed a lynching in the middle of the street,” said Atty. Merritt, who added, “This story continues to change over time. We know what was conveyed to the family was that Ahmaud was in the process of a burglary when he was killed … Our investigators have found other eye and ear witnesses who saw what happened and the story that they tell is starkly different than the one told by the McMichaels.”
Atty. Merritt also noted inconsistencies in the police report, which said Ahmaud was shot twice. But in the video, three shots are clearly heard. According to Min. Sharrieff Muhammad, Wanda Cooper didn’t find out about the third shot until she handed her son’s body over to a funeral director.
“I sent my grandson to the family house to find out what took place after I heard about it because he was best friends with Ahmaud. He told me that Ahmaud’s mother took his body back to Augusta because that’s her home. And in talking to the funeral director she said she felt like there was something he wasn’t telling her. The funeral director said to her that even though they were saying her son got shot twice, he had really gotten shot three times. But the funeral director said he didn’t say anything at first because he didn’t want to get involved,” Min. Sharrieff Muhammad explained.
Added Atty. Merritt, “There is no place on earth for what happened to Ahmaud to not be criminal. But apparently in Brunswick, Ga., if you’re White, you can get away with something like this for months at a time, and continue to enjoy your family, your homes, and your freedom. That’s offensive. It’s deeply painful for this family; for this mother, this father, his siblings, for the athletes, the coaches, the community, that knew and loved Ahmaud. And for complete strangers who have never met him, but had their own sense of sanctity and safety violated by the failure of the state agents in this case to prosecute, and treat these men like the criminals they are. We don’t have to continue to live in fear, if the people we have are empowered to take action, stand up and do the right thing.”
At press time, the office of Thomas Durden had not responded to The Final Call for a statement on this case.
The Georgia Bureau of Investigation, which is conducting a probe of the shooting, said their agents would follow wherever the case takes them. Atty. Crump told the media the GBI probe should toss out any investigation by local officials as tainted.
(J.S. Adams contributed to this report.)