Sunday Commentary: What the Killing of Ahmaud Arbery Tells Us


Another black man was falsely believed to be a criminal for no apparent reason other than the fact that he was a black man jogging.  Now he’s dead.

Over the last decade white America has gotten a glimpse into what it is like to be a black man—to walk around with the presumption of guilt.  Driving while black—Sandra Bland and Philando Castile.  Walking across the street while black—Nandi Cain.  Standing on a street corner—Eric Garner.  Mowing a lawn here in Davis.  Walking home—Trayvon Martin.

And now the case of 25-year-old Ahmaud Arbery.

Probably the most stunning part of this case is that it took a viral video to finally convince authorities to take this seriously.

On the afternoon of February 23, 2020, before all of this COVID-stuff hit the fan, 25-year-old Ahmaud Arbery, a black man, was jogging through the neighborhood minutes from his home in Brunswick, Georgia.

At this point two local white men, Gregory and Travis McMichael, 64 and 34 years of age respectively, shot and killed him—as another man, William Bryan, filmed portions of the killing.

In their statements to police, the two men claim they shot Ahmaud Arbery, who was unarmed, in self-defense as they were attempting to apprehend him.

Armed with rifles, they pursued Arbery in a vehicle when Gregory McMichael claims that Arbery “attacked” him and his son, resulting in Travis McMichael firing at least one shot which struck and killed Arbery.

According to the police report, here is Gregory McMichael’s explanation: “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.’”

According to various accounts, there is no evidence that has emerged which indicated that Ahmaud Arbery was involved in any sort of crime or burglary that led up to the fatal confrontation with the two men.

Wanda Cooper, Arbery’s mother, told CNN that when police notified her of her son’s death, police told her that her son had been involved in a burglary, and that “there had been a confrontation between her son and the homeowner as well as a struggle over a gun.”

It took until May 7 for the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) to arrest the two men on charges of the murder and aggravated assault of Ahmaud Arbery.  This was 73 days after the shooting and two days after the video was released.

Is some of this bogged down in the COVID-19 stuff?  Perhaps.

On February 27, the DA in Brunswick Judicial Circuit, Jackie Johnson, wrote a letter to the state attorney general’s office recusing herself.  That is because Gregory McMichael had been an investigator in the district attorney’s office for over 30 years.

The case was transferred to Ware County.

District Attorney George E. Barnhill took it over. In a letter sent to the Glenn County PD Investigation Division in early April, DA Barnhill stated he did not believe there were “grounds for an arrest of the three parties” and detailed why he believed the McMichaels were justified in killing Ahmaud Arbery.

The second prosecutor wrote: “It appears Travis McMichael, Greg McMichael and [William Bryan] were following in ‘hot pursuit,’ a burglary suspect, with solid first hand probable cause, in their neighborhood, and asking/telling him to stop. It appears their intent was to stop and hold this criminal suspect until law enforcement arrived. Under Georgia law this is perfectly legal.”

He cites the statute: “A private person may arrest an offender if the offense is committed in his presence or within his immediate knowledge.”

The prosecutor adds, “Given the fact Arbery initiated the fight, at the point Arbery grabbed the shotgun, under Georgia law, McMichael was allowed to use deadly force to protect himself.”

The family of Ahmaud Arbery requested that Barnhill recuse himself from the case, because Barnhill’s son is a district attorney in the Brunswick Judicial Circuit, where Gregory McMichael was a former investigator.

Following the request of Ahmaud Arbery’s family, District Attorney Barnhill stated he requested assistance from the Georgia Attorney General to find another district attorney to handle the case.

Tom Durden, the DA Pro Tem of Brunswick, issued a press release noting that, on April 13, he received a call from the AG’s office about the death investigation.  He said that, due to prior employment or familial relationships, the DAs for Brunswick have recused themselves.  He accepted the appointment since he had no knowledge of the incident or relationship with the witnesses.

He pointed out that, at the present time, “courts in Georgia.. are prohibited from empaneling grand or trial juries.” Those prohibitions are in effect until June 13.

He said, “I have no control over the suspensions due to the pandemic; however, I do intend to present the case to the next available grand jury in Glynn County.”

On May 6, the GBI investigated the shooting and the following day they arrested Gregory Michael and his son.

There are a lot of similarities to the Trayvon Martin case.  In this case, the men stalked Arbery, they assumed criminality of which he was not guilty, and then used self-defense—after initiating the confrontation—to justify their shooting.

It is worth pointing out that we have always heard that a good man with a gun is the answer to a whole host of societal problems.  In this case, the good man with a gun was actually a trained former police office and DA investigator, and he still made critical mistakes that led to an unnecessary loss of life.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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6 thoughts on “Sunday Commentary: What the Killing of Ahmaud Arbery Tells Us”

  1. Keith Olsen

    Mowing a lawn here in Davis. 

    I see you took that old one off the shelf, dusted it off and reused it.

    The two killers need to serve life sentences and the camera man deserves at least 10 years as he’s an accomplice.  What they did is reprehensible, if they thought Ahmaud Arbery had committed a crime they had already called the cops so there was no excuse to hunt Ahmaud Arbery down.


  2. Tia Will

    “…critical mistakes”? That seems like quite an assumption. Why not pure malice? It does not seem to me that we have any idea what his true motives were at this point in time.

  3. Matt Williams

    The simple, straight-forward description for this incident is vigilante justice, where the two McMichaels took the law in their hands, playing the sequential roles of hunters, prosecution, judge, jury and executioner.  It was a lynching plain and simple, the only difference being that they didn’t use a rope and a tree, but rather a truck and a gun.

    The McMichaels make George Zimmerman look like a saint.

  4. David Greenwald Post author

    The failure of the authorities to act before this became a national story though is the point I was trying to highlight here.  What was interesting and I probably should have pointed out is that all of a sudden it goes to the GBI and they stop messing around and arrest them in one day.

  5. David Greenwald Post author

    AP reporting: “Georgia’s attorney general on Sunday asked the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate the handling of the killing of Ahmaud Arbery, a black man who authorities say died at the hands of two white men as he ran through a neighborhood.

    “We are committed to a complete and transparent review of how the Ahmaud Arbery case was handled from the outset,” Attorney General Chris Carr said in a statement. “The family, the community and the state of Georgia deserve answers, and we will work with others in law enforcement at the state and federal level to find those answers.”

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