Arbery, 25, was killed on February 23 while he was jogging in the coastal city of Brunswick, Georgia, but action in the case only took place days ago when video evidence emerged showing the brutal killing.
Although the incident took place two months ago, a video of it was only released on May 3. In the footage, two men, Gregory McMichael, 64, and his son Travis McMichael, 34, are seen chasing Arbery down and shooting him. In the video, a confrontation between the men occurs before Arbery is shot. Last Thursday, the two Georgia residents were arrested and charged with murder and aggravated assault.
According to a report by USA Today, Brunswick District Attorney (DA) Jackie Johnson had previously recused herself from the case because Gregory McMichael used to work in her office as an investigator. Gregory McMichael is also a retired Glynn County police officer. A memo obtained by USA Today shows that George E. Barnhill, the district attorney who was previously leading the investigation into the case, believed the McMichaels acted in accordance with Georgia law. In the memo, Barnhill also notes that Arbery’s mother “has clearly expressed she wants [Barnhill] and [his] office off the case.”
“She sees a conflict in that my son works in the Brunswick District Attorney’s Office where Greg McMichael retired some time ago. She believes there are kinships between the parties [there are not] and has made other unfounded allegations of biases,” the memo adds.
“The entire matter comes down to those DAs refusing to prosecute and refusing to really disclose that they had connections to the murderers,” Johnson told host John Kiriakou on Tuesday.
“Initially, the case was given to the police department, which recused [itself] after realizing that the older McMichael had worked with them. They gave it over to a DA [Barnhill] who did not immediately disclose that his son had also worked with McMichael. So for weeks and weeks, he holds onto this case. He pens this horrible letter saying that there’s no reason to prosecute without disclosing that he knows the murderer,” Johnson said.
However, protesters and activists have pointed to precisely such biases as the reason why no charges were initially brought against the McMichaels.
“They want to keep the facade of legitimacy over these police officers … There’s already an assumption of guilt onto Ahmaud Arbery … What alerted them [the McMichaels] that they needed to go down and chase this person and murder him in cold blood was that it was a Black person that they sought to control. [Gregory] McMichael having been a former police officer - he just felt that it was his place to keep Ahmaud Arbery in his place,” Johnson said.
“But no one wants to talk about how that mindset is built, how that’s fomented in police officers around the county, because it would require them to call it what it is,” she explained, implying that there is still a reluctance to refer to racist acts explicitly as such.
“It’s not very out of the ordinary when you look at the history of Georgia, South Georgia rural areas, to find people who believe that they are the arbiters of justice and they have the responsibility to carry out justice,” Johnson added, noting that repercussions for DAs and police officers usually amount “to no more than a slap on the wrist.”
“I think until there’s a whole change in the way this country works, we can expect situations like this … It doesn’t matter whether these young men are really dangerous to the public security. It’s not about that. It’s about exerting power over Black people and showing them that they are not safe and their lives can be snuffed out at any moment,” Johnson explained.
The US Department of Justice (DoJ) on Monday said it is weighing the possibility of filing hate crime charges in relation to Arbery's death.
“The Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice, the FBI, and the US Attorney for the Southern District of Georgia have been supporting and will continue fully to support and participate in the state investigation. We are assessing all of the evidence to determine whether federal hate crimes charges are appropriate," DoJ spokesperson Kerri Kupec said in a statement.
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