Mr. Arbery, 25, was a former high school soccer player who resided with his mother in the outskirts of little town of Brunswick Georgia. He had attended university for a short period but appeared to be drifting in his twenties, trying out several occupations, honing his rap skills, and residing with his parents. He also suffered from auditory hallucinations as a result of a mental disorder. Police reports revealed that Ahmaud Arbery was jogging on 23rd February 2020 when a white man saw him run by. The man identified as Gregory McMichael alleged that Mr. Arbery seemed like a burglary suspect who had terrorized the area for some time. McMichael immediately signaled his Travis Michael and the two, males grabbed a short gun and .357 Magnum handgun, got into their track, and chased Mr. Arbery, repeatedly attempting to cut him off. The reports also revealed that there was a third man involved in the incidence.
The three males were found guilty of misdemeanors. The entire scenario was captured on video tape and the state case has been one of the most widely monitored court cases by human rights activities in the U.S since the murder conviction of Derek Chauvin, a former Minneapolis officer who was found guilty of the murder of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man in 2020. The footage of the incident sparked outrage throughout the world and prompted major concerns about police treatment of minorities.
Statement of the problem
The assassination of Arbery brought to light the risks that Black Americans can face when they perform seemingly innocuous acts that white folks view as a threat. The three claimed they only acted out in self-defense, citing a civil war-era statute that pressed into service residents to monitor the activities of Black bodies and conduct out persons arrests of criminal suspects – a policy the United States has since repealed. They said they were lawfully justified in going for Arbery since he fitted the description of a robbery suspect. (Yang, 2021). Therefore, in this research I will be analyze the murder of Ahmaud Arbery and what motivates white folks to perceive unarmed black men as threats.
This research paper will be guided by the following research questions:
- Why were Gregory and Travis McMichael’s charged with considered a hate crime in the killing of Ahmaud Arbery?
- What motivated Mr. Arbery’s killers to murder and innocent and unarmed man?
- Why was the law enforcement in Brunswick Georgia reluctant to prosecute the offenders and what role did law enforcement play in the case’s misconduct and the outcome of the accused persons?
- How did the Georgian law fail Ahmaud Arbery?
- Why would white folks automatically see defenseless Black persons as dangerous people, like in the case of Ahmed Arbery?
- What was the racial mix of the neighborhood where Arbery was murdered?
This research takes a qualitative perspective where I will conduct a content analysis utilizing the results of searching numerous online articles that have conducted research on the murder of Ahmed Arbery and the conviction of the offenders.
Hate Crimes charges in the Murder of Arbery
Hate crimes are a frequently used in the criminal justice system. usually, a person who commits a ‘hate crime’ is more accurately described as an individual who exhibits bigotry or prejudice towards the victim’s (presumed) group membership rather than being driven by hate for his or her victim (Hall, 2013). The murder of Ahmaud Arbery was therefore treated as a hate crime owing to the fact that the perpetrators were had a history of racial profiling against black folks.
On February, an FBI analyst testified before a court in Georgia bringing forward a number of racists posts and messages from the offenders as the prosecutors attempted to unearth a racial animus in the killing of Arbery. The texts and posts produced by the analyst expressed obvious disrespect for people of color, and the use of racial insults and threats of violence. Media reporters in the court reported that while reacting to a video showing a Black man pouring barbeque sauce onto the head of a white man as joke, Travis McMichael exclaimed, “I’ would murder that f****** N****.” (Raymond, 2022)
In a different response to Facebook video showing young Black teens, McMichael allegedly responded: “My Taurus 38 (handgun) says five of them would be taking a dirt nap. I say shoot all of them f*** those g****** monkeys.” (Raymond, 2020). According to the analyst, McMichael frequently mentioned utilizing weapons on people of color and that he was the origin of some of the worst virulently racist messages. It was also reported that he referred to people of color as “animals,” “monkeys,” and “subhuman savages,” (Raymond, 2022).
It was also reported that he repeatedly used the N-word in a number of messages, including a text sent to an ally at a pub moaning about the presence of people of color: “They sabotage everything. That is why I am passionate about what I do. There wasn’t a single (N-word) to be found. At least I’m not a N****,” said a different text, under a photo of a mentally disabled man. In another post, Travis McMichael said that “it’d be cooler if he blew his f****** head off” while responding to a video of a Black man wearing fireworks in his nostrils (Raymond, 2022). These series of texts and racial insults proved that indeed, the offenders were acting out as a result of some deep sited hatred that had for the black community.
Law Enforcements’ Reluctance to prosecute the offenders
It was alleged that Glynn County law enforcement officers allegedly overlooked or failed to adequately probe Arbery’s death in the weeks and months following his death. In one scenario, a district attorney declined to authorize police officers to arrest the three offenders. It was reported that Glynn County District Attorney Jackie Johnson barred cops responding to the shooting from charging the McMichael’s, stating Greg McMichael’s twenty-year term as an investigator in her office prior retirement in 2019. A commissioner from Glynn Counter told Atlanta Journal, “When the police arrived on the scene and informed her that they were preparing to apprehend both of them, she immediately shut them down in order to protect her companion McMichael.” (Boone, 2020). However, Jackie precluded herself from the investigation a few days after the murder of Arbery.
A few days later, the district attorney of Waycross, George Barnhill, took over. Barnhill opted not to prosecute the McMichael’s less than a day after watching the footage and evidence gathered by the authorities, citing inadequate proof, according to Peter Murphy from Glynn County. Barnhill sent an email to the law enforcement officials on April 2nd, saying: “McMichael’s mental health records and prior convictions shed light on his abrasive demeanor and possible motive to attack an armed man.” (Boone, 2020). Barnhill precluded himself less than a week later since his son had worked on an Arbery case while working in Johnson’s office. The relationship was uncovered after Lee Merritt, an attorney who represents Arbery’s mother, noticed the connection between Barnhill’s son and her son on a social media platform brought it to his office’s attention.
The case was then taken over by Tom Durden, the district attorney from Hinesville, who made very minimal headway for nearly a month until the horrific video of Ahmaud Shooting was released on May 5. The footage sparked widespread outrage, prompting Durden to contact the Bureau of Investigation from Georgia. The McMichael’s were apprehended two days later, only after the case was taken over by Joyette M Holmes, the District Attorney from Cobb County as the cases’ fourth prosecutor, on May 11. Mr. Joyette was one of just seven black district attorneys in Georgia. Mrs. Jackie Johnson was later charged with misconduct in September for allegedly abusing her position to protect the McMichael’s. In the Pre-trail hearings, it was reported that Greg McMichael contacted Johnson shortly after the incident and left her a voice message saying: “Jackie, this is Greg. My son and I were involved in a shooting, and I’m in desperate need of advice right now.” (The Guardian, 2020)
Racial Makeup of Brunswick Georgia
The aftermath of Ahmaud Arbery’s shooting killing shook the generally calm community of Brunswick, Georgia. Brunswick is a town located in the South Eastern Georgia.
Statistics from the American Community Survey, the racial composition of Georgia is (census.gov):
- White; 50.1%
- African American; 32.6%
- Asians: 4.4%
- Native American; 0.3%
- Native Hawaiian; 0.1%
In the town of Brunswick however, racial composition is (census.gov):
- 55.07% Black or African American
- 40.03% White
- 2.16% Asians
- 1.66% Two or more races:
- 0.63% Other races
- 0.25% Native Americans
- 0.20% Native Hawaiian
The diagrammatic representation shows Brunswick is a mixed-race neighborhood. The largest ethnic group in Brunswick is Black comprising of 55% followed by the white community that make up 40% of the population. However, even with the large percentage of people of color in the community, racial profiling by the white folks seems to be very prevalent.
Even after the judgments are in, there are still unsolved mysteries that have hung over Glynn County, Ga., since Arbery’s death: What does it mean that something happened in this location? What are the true consequences of the freedom and equality that this region country—claims to value? Many people will find what happened in Glynn County hauntingly familiar; so many smaller crises have flared up in other areas and either faded or burst. (Ross, 2021).
Hostility of White folks towards Unarmed Black Men in Brunswick Georgia
Although the seaside city has typically avoided major racial protests or riots, fury over Arbery’s killing has brought discussions about criminal justice system corruption and racism into the open in an unprecedented degree. The events following the murder of Ahmaud Arbery reaffirm what locals describe as a long-standing sense of being attacked rather than guarded. Watched, rather than being watched out for, is a perspective colored by innumerable stories like West’s, in which Black citizens are pulled over or interrogated by law police for the color of their skin, rather than for any genuine offense (Suggs and Coker, 2020).
During the sentencing of the Ahmaud Arbery’s killers, his tearful mother told the court, “This wasn’t a case of mistaken identity, they chose my kid as a target because they didn’t want him in their society… and when they couldn’t terrify or intimidate him enough, they killed him.” (Sharp, 2020). Franklin Hogue on the other hand, McMichael’s lawyer, argued that as more information became available, it would be evident that his client had not committed murder. “We will show the fact that this is not just another incident of violent racism,” he stated. However, there are a few things that are crystal clear from the incident. (Fausset and Rojas, 2020). Mr. Arbery, who resided on either side of a four-lane highway in Fancy Bluff, a historically black community, had his last run across a stretch of South Georgia terrain characterized by historic — but while increasingly blurred — racial border lines onto a street in which neighbors were watchful and on edge (Fausset and Rojas, 2020). The four-lane highway acted as a type of man-made barrier between the black and white worlds for many years. However, some of those boundaries have started to dissolve in recent decades. Fancy Bluff, a community of small homes, many of them newer and lining orderly, peaceful lanes, began to attract white people.
How the Georgia Law failed Ahmed Arbery
Indeed, Arbery’s story illustrates a distinct type of violence—lethal vigilantism—that is rarely discussed in relation to police. It was made possible by a legal system that allows for the inevitable killing of unarmed black men as long as the society considers it to be reasonable. Citizens’ arrest is combined with liberal gun regulations and “stand your ground” self-defense laws in this dictatorship. It was the law that sparked the vigilantism that led to Arbery’s death, and we are delusory if we believe the law will bring justice. Human rights activists believe that Justice will not be served until the law is amended.
The main offenders in the death of Arbery, Greg and Travis McMichael believe they were conducting a citizen’s arrest, which has been legal in the United States for decades. It has evolved over time, but by the eighteenth century, it permitted a bystander who observed a crime to restrain the perpetrator until the cops arrived. The ordinance, which was enacted at a time when authorities were scarce, was meant to allow shopkeepers and householders to apprehend and retain would-be thieves and hold them until a sergeant could be summoned. Perhaps there was a period when such a law, at least under limited situations, made perfect sense. It is now, nevertheless, the target of vehement criticism, particularly in the aftermath of the Arbery murder (Margulies, 2020)
Georgia, just like other jurisdictions, enhanced a person’s right to arrest another person. The Georgian statute’s first phrase allows a private person to arrest someone for any crime “committed in his presence or within his immediate knowledge.”. However, Georgia enables a citizen to initiate an arrest even if he has “reasonable and probable grounds” to believe the individual committed a serious crime and is “escaping or attempting to flee” under the second phrase (Margulies, 2020)
Following the statue, a private citizen can only make an arrest if he reasonably believed he was pursuing a fleeing offender in the absence of firsthand knowledge. This translates to the laws first failure. It gives private persons the ability to intervene on secondhand information and allows their counterparts to judge if such information was reliable. Both choices are likely to be catastrophically erratic (Margulies, 2020). This is one another rationale why regular persons should not be given the authority to act on secondary criminal verdicts. It has been known for a long time that whites in this country equate blackness with crime, and vice versa (Margulies, 2020) The stereotype that crime is associated with young black men is particularly entrenched. We saw this in action in the Arbery case. A number of youngsters and adults had intruded on the building site that Arbery had passed by, yet none had been “presumed to be a criminal,” according to a lawyer for the Arbery family (Kless, 2020)
Indeed, Residents of this country have been educated to respect the rule of law from an early age. However, the assassination of Ahmaud Arbery demonstrates that in many jurisdictions, the law is part of the issue, not the solution. Black residents will continue to be pursued and slain by “reasonable” white men until citizens accept this reality (Kless, 2020).
Defendants guilty Plea Deals
In January, two of the three individuals charged with hate crimes in the assassination of Ahmaud Arbery had plea bargains with the Justice Department rejected by a federal court. The plea deals would have been the first time any of the men stated that Mr. Arbery’s murder was motivated by race. (Fausset, 2022) In November, all three men were found guilty of murder in state court. The federal plea offers enraged Mr. Arbery’s family since it would have sent at least two of them to federal jail instead of state prison for up to 30 years. Federal prisons are thought to be safer than state prisons. William Bryan, 52, the third individual engaged in the pursuit, was sentenced to life imprisonment without the parole eligibility in state court. There was no sign that he had struck a plea agreement with the Justice Department as of January.
Prosecutors had anticipated that the McMichael’s’ plea deals would guarantee that they ensure serve significant jail sentence for the murder of Mr. Arbery, even if their statutory murder charges were reversed on appeal. Their federal term would have run simultaneously with their life without the possibility of parole state terms (Fausset, 2022) Following the terms of the settlement, the men would have been unable to appeal their federal guilty pleas.
Mr Arbery’s relatives felt that it was enough and they talked to Judge Wood in a courtroom in Brunswick, Ga., near the murder site, about the continued anguish of losing Mr. Arbery, and they urged vehemently that the perpetrators must not be permitted to pick a less-unpleasant jail alternative. “I’m pleading with you not to approve this plea in order to allow these men to move out of Georgia state custody into federal prisons, where they wish to be.” (Fausset, 2022). Wanda Cooper-Jones said, referencing to her son, Mr. Arbery.
According to Page Pate, a prominent Georgian trial lawyer, the defendants could anticipate that by pleading guilty, the judge might sentence them to less than life in prison, which is the ultimate punishment for the hate crimes accusation (Fausset, 2022). Mr. Pate did point out, however, that the family was putting itself in danger by pushing for a trial. Even if prosecution can show that the men had previously engaged in racist behavior, it may be difficult to persuade a jury that they were driven by hatred. Prosecutors also claimed that, while Travis McMichael did not want to injure a Black person on the day, he fatally shot Mr. Arbery, he made unsafe judgments about him being a criminal based solely on the fact that he was black.
Arbery’s death was one of several recent racial justice protests sparked by the deaths of men and women and women of color, typically at the hands of police. The federal trial of Arbery’s assailants is the first time those responsible for such a high-profile murder have faced a jury in a hate-crime case. Indeed, Arbery’s killing sparks a lot debate on the prevalence of racism and other related hate crimes in the United States. What would have happened if Ahmaud Arbery had been white? What if one of the two guys who accosted Mr. Arbery before shooting and killing him was black? What if the terrible video of a young guy being unnecessarily gunned down while out for a Sunday jog had not been anonymously released to the Internet, but rather kept hidden? Probably everyone knows the answer to these dreadful questions. It would not have taken law enforcement officials in Georgia more than two months to be embarrassed into seeking some sort of justice in Mr. Arbery’s death if he had not been black. Arbery’s death also serves as a stark reminder of how far we still have to go in the fight for racial equality in the United States. Instead, all citizens must commit to a future of unity and mutual strength, to build a community where no one is afraid of violence because of their ethnicity, race or skin color.
Christian Boone (2020). Glynn County commissioners say DA blocked arrests after fatal shooting. Glynn County commissioner says DA blocked arrests after fatal shooting (ajc.com)
Donnell Suggs and Margaret Coker (2020). Glynn County Police, Residents Wrestle With Racism. https://www.gpb.org/news/2021/02/23/glynn-county-police-residents-wrestle-racism.
Georgia Census Facts. https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/GA.
Janelle Ross (2021). What Ahmaud Arbery’s Death Has Meant for the Place Where He Lived. https://time.com/6121300/ahmaud-arbery-brunswick-georgia/
Jonathan Raymond (2022). Racist texts, posts presented in hate crimes trial for Ahmaud Arbery’s killers. https://www.11alive.com/article/news/crime/ahmaud-arbery/ahmaud-arbrery-murder-hate-crimes-trial-racist-texts-posts/85-858b1378-4acb-4b47-9154-8b955038fc04.
Joseph Margulies (2020). How the Law Killed Ahmaud Arbery. https://bostonreview.net/articles/joseph-margulies-arbery-shooting/.
Maya Yang (2021). How the murder of Ahmaud Arbery further exposes America’s broken and racist legal system. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/nov/24/ahmaud-arbery-murder-trial-reveals-racism-us.
The Guardian (2020). Ex-prosecutor indicted for allegedly shielding men in Ahmaud Arbery case. Ex-prosecutor indicted for allegedly shielding men in Ahmaud Arbery case | Georgia | The Guardian
Troy Kless (2020). VIDEO: Homeowner believes Ahmaud Arbery was getting water when visiting construction site. VIDEO: Homeowner believes Ahmaud Arbery was getting water when visiting construction site | 11alive.com
Rachael Sharp (2022). Ahmaud Arbery’s mother says son would have cut toenails ‘if he knew he would be murdered that day’ https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/crime/ahmaud-arbery-wanda-cooper-jones-sentencing-b1988754.html.
Richard Fausset (2022). Federal Judge Rejects Hate Crime Plea Deals in Ahmaud Arbery Killing. https://www.nytimes.com/2022/01/31/us/ahmaud-arbery-hate-crime-plea-deal.html.