By Catherine Hamilton and Delilah Hammons
BRUNSWICK, GA — On Feb. 23, 2020, Ahmaud Arbery, 25, was fatally shot during a supposed citizen’s arrest made by Gregory and Travis McMichael, and filmed by resident William Bryan, as noted by CNN.
About 21 months later, all were found guilty of murder for Arbery’s death.
Impact Justice released the following statement in response to the guilty verdicts of the three defendants:
“We stand with people across the country who support the guilty verdict as the only reasonable and decent outcome in this case and yet long for more. There is no justice when three white men feel empowered to chase, corner, and execute a young, unarmed Black man, even if they face life sentences after the fact. Justice requires more than retribution.
“The atypical verdict in this case and herculean efforts required to achieve it will not advance justice unless we address the causes of racialized violence in America. That includes legal systems coast to coast that are stacked against Black people.
“For every white person whose erroneous claim of self-defense is vindicated by largely white juries, most recently Kyle Rittenhouse, there are scores of Black people who fought for their lives and yet are prosecuted and punished as if they were the aggressors.
“More generally, systems unfairly criminalize and excessively punish Black people every day in ways that not only undercut their lives and further marginalize their communities but also reinforce long-established stereotypes of Black people as deviant, dangerous, and less than human.
“Transforming this system is a massive undertaking that requires us to confront the widespread harms inherent in existing legal systems and instead build truly humane, restorative systems of justice, efforts to which Impact Justice contributes.
“We stand with the family of Ahmaud Arbery and countless others whose loved ones are forever gone, acknowledge the gravity of these losses, and continue to fight for a more just world.”
Arbery was jogging through a neighborhood just outside of Brunswick, Georgia towards a stopped pickup truck. Travis McMichael, 35, was standing near the driver’s side of the door holding a shotgun, while his father, Gregory McMichael, 65, was in the bed of the truck, reported news reports.
Another resident of the neighborhood, William Bryan, 52, began filming the incident between Arbery and the McMichaels, but the video didn’t surface until two months after Arbery was killed. CNN said it wasn’t until after the video appeared that Gregory and Travis McMichael faced any charges and the case really began.
The McMichaels pleaded not guilty, insisting that they were making a citizen’s arrest and acting in self-defense. The two said they believed that Arbery was the one responsible for the recent alleged burglaries in the neighborhood. Later, a Glynn County Police spokesperson revealed that seven weeks prior to the shooting, one burglary had been reported.
Four months later, the three suspects were indicted on murder charges – all three pleaded not guilty. Bond was denied for all of them.
The trial began in Oct. with a two-and-a-half-week-long jury selection process, wherein the prosecution accused the defense counsel of eliminating potential jurors because of their race, according to BBC.
After an all-white jury with only one Black man was selected, Judge Timothy Walmsley said there appeared to be “intentional discrimination” during the jury selection, BBC reported, but allowed the trial to continue.
Drawing further criticism of the trial proceedings, the defense attorney representing Bryan, Kevin Gough, said that they didn’t “want any more Black pastors coming” into the courthouse, according to a CNN article.
Gough said the pastors were intimidating and possibly swaying the decision of the jury, new media reported, but Judge Walmsley said that, as long as they weren’t causing disruptions, he would not “blanketly exclude members of the public from this courtroom.”
Gough apologized for his comment the next day, but he already added to the conversation of race surrounding the trial.
Even though racial discrimination played a key role, the prosecution did not pose their case as a racially motivated attack. Assistant District Attorney of Cobb County Linda Dunikoski avoided the topic of race and rather focused on how the three defendants chased and trapped Ahmaud Arbery, according to the New York Times.
Gough, quoted in the New York Times article, said that Dunikoski “found a clever way of bringing the issue up that wouldn’t be offensive to the right-leaning members of the jury.”
The verdicts were:
- Travis McMicheal was found guilty on all charges, which were malice murder, four counts of felony murder, two counts of aggravated assault, false imprisonment, and criminal attempt to commit a felony.
- Gregory McMichael was found guilty on all charges except for malice murder.
- William Bryan was found guilty of three counts of felony murder, one count of aggravated assault, false imprisonment, and criminal attempt to commit a felony.
Their attorneys have said they will file for an appeal.
The verdict of the trial comes in stark contrast with the acquittal of Kyle Rittenhouse on Nov. 19, an 18-year-old who crossed state borders with a firearm to allegedly protect businesses from protests over the shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, WI, according to NPR.
Both cases bring up the question of how far Second Amendment rights and self-defense claims can go, with two very different outcomes.
While CNN has said the dates for the defendants’ sentencing are unclear, the prosecutors are looking for life in prison without parole. All three defendants were additionally indicted on federal hate crime charges, and that trial is scheduled for February 2022.