Commentary

Georgia journalist explains why arrests in horrific Ahmaud Arbery murder shouldn’t have taken so long

[Editor’s note: It’s being reported this morning that police have finally arrested two men for the February murder of a Black jogger named Ahmaud Arbery in coastal Glynn County, Georgia. As veteran Georgia journalist and commentator Jay Bookman explains in the essay below that ran yesterday in our sibling publication, the Georgia Recorder, it’s an outrage that it took this long.]

Ahmaud Arbery was shot to death as he was running down this road through the Satilla Shores neighborhood in February. The Georgia Bureau of Investigation is now taking on the case after local law enforcement stalled an inquiry. Wes Wolfe/Georgia Recorder

Waycross DA’s judgment of Brunswick shooting video ‘insane’

Somebody thought the video of the killing of Ahmaud Arbery had to be made public if Arbery and his family were to get a chance at justice.

That unknown somebody was right.

The 36-second video of Arbery’s death is a brutal, difficult thing to watch. It looks for all the world like a modern lynching. 

Even more damning, it makes the government response to Arbery’s death look exactly like a modern coverup of a lynching. It makes it look as if a brutal case of unprovoked racist vigilante violence has been sanctioned by a racist government, as if it’s 1920 not 2020.

The facts, briefly, are these:

On a sunny Sunday afternoon in late February, Arbery, 25, was jogging down the middle of a quiet suburban street near Brunswick on the Georgia coast. He was wearing jogging clothes – shorts, T-shirt, Nikes — as he always did on his regular runs. 

Arbery was Black. Two white men decided that the Black man jogging through their neighborhood on a Sunday afternoon was a burglar. They armed themselves and began to pursue him in a vehicle. They cornered Arbery, cut him off from all means of escape, and ended up shooting him three times. He died at the scene. He didn’t have a gun, he didn’t have a TV set smuggled in his running shorts.

More than two months later, no charges have been filed; no arrests had been made.

The first few times I watched the graphic video of Arbery’s killing, which surfaced Tuesday, I was trying to hope that it was new evidence, that the decision made weeks ago by local prosecutors not to file charges had come before the video came to light, before they had the benefit of seeing for themselves what had happened.

That hope was in vain. It turns out that local prosecutors have had the damning video from the beginning, and had made the decision not to prosecute despite having seen it. They also refused to release the video to the public, until someone, someone with access to it, decided it had to be seen.

Justice was always going to be difficult for a dead Black man in south Georgia, unable to tell his side of the story, against two white men. But in this case, one of the three men who accosted and shot Arbery, Greg McMichael, is a retired investigator for the Glynn County district attorney. So toss in the fact that the white men in question have close ties to local law enforcement, and the odds against a fair hearing grow longer still.

Because of McMichael’s job history, the Brunswick district attorney initially passed the case to George Barnhill, district attorney for the neighboring Waycross Judicial Circuit. It was Barnhill who made the initial decision not to seek charges in the case, although he too has since recused himself.

In an internal memo, Barnhill tried to justify his refusal to consider charges, and frankly the interpretation of events that he offers in that document is bizarre. Barnhill basically describes Arbery as the attacker, depicting McMichael and his son Travis as innocent victims who were just trying to defend themselves. 

That’s right: in Barnhill’s view, the aggressors weren’t the men who armed themselves with a shotgun and a .357 magnum pistol and hunted down another person; the aggressor, the attacker, was the lone unarmed man jogging down the middle of the street on a sunny day.

The video shows nothing like that. It shows Arbery trying to avoid conflict, and the well-armed McMichaels insisting upon it, forcing a physical confrontation. 

In Barnhill’s version of the video, Arbery “attacks Travis McMichael.” He writes that “Arbery initiated the fight,” and “under Georgia law, McMichael was allowed to use deadly force to protect himself.” He says it is Arbery, not the McMichaels, who shows “apparent aggressive nature.”

That’s just incredible, or as a criminal lawyer put it to me after reading the document, “insane.”

Barnhill even goes on to suggest that Arbery in effect may have murdered himself. Yes, it was Travis McMichael’s shotgun; yes, McMichael aimed it at Arbery; yes, it was McMichael’s finger on the trigger. But in Barnhill’s opinion, during a struggle “Arbery would only had to pull the shotgun approximately 1/16th to 1/8th of one inch to fire (the) weapon himself.”

Using McMichael’s finger, of course.

It’s the kind of argument that a desperate defense attorney might make, when all other facts were against his client and he had no better case to offer. But Barnhill was not acting as a defense attorney, at least not officially. He is a prosecutor, and it is more than strange to see a prosecutor torture every possible ambiguity in a case, and some that aren’t ambiguous at all, in order not to file charges.

There are undoubtedly things that we don’t know yet, things that a grand jury and then a jury should learn before casting final legal judgment. A rush to assume guilt helped lead to Arbery’s death; the McMichaels should get the fair hearing in court, the due process that they denied the black man jogging through their neighborhood. A third district attorney, Tom Durden, has now been assigned the case, and Gov. Brian Kemp has committed the Georgia Bureau of Investigation to help bring clarity and a possible indictment.

But the decision not to even try to bring charges, to try to sweep this under the rug despite serious evidence of wrongdoing? That’s a damning, damning indictment of the justice system.

6 Comments


  1. Gum Boocho

    May 9, 2020 at 1:39 am

    Why can’t people wait for investigation before jumping to conclusions? Politicians of course will want to ensure they get black votes, & too many black persons take sides based on pigment. We don’t know if there was probable cause for suspicion that the runner was a criminal. I have read that Arbery was known to at least one of the McMichaels.
    And if Arbery grabbed the shotgun, he should not at that point be called “unarmed.” I have seen no evidence that these 2 white men wanted to kill Arbery. If they had no justification to stop him, then it would be man slaughter. But let’s wait for the investigation and not take sides based on race.

  2. Daniel J Rhodes

    May 10, 2020 at 2:35 pm

    They had no right to go after anyone with a weapon. Why didn’t they just call the police. Your judgment sounds just as bad as the district attorney’s.

  3. Nick

    May 11, 2020 at 7:16 pm

    Guess the new video evidence out shows you should wait before you make a statement on a case you know nothing about other that what they media has told you. Happens over and over again. The whole “jogger” thing is dead.

  4. Bobbi Antonelli

    May 12, 2020 at 11:17 am

    This is complete BS. Arbery was fpund wearing khaki shorts and boots, FFS. Not quite the attire an “avid jogger” would wear. And I’ve had people tell me the McMichaels are “known white supremists”. Not 1 single bit of evidence provws this. That claim is just conjecture to fit a narrative. There’s a HUGE dufference between OPINION & EVIDENCE.

  5. Chuck Kollars

    May 12, 2020 at 12:44 pm

    It makes no difference whether there was “probable cause” or not. Even supposing there was some kind of burglary, the judicial penalty is NOT DEATH. Call this “vigilante justice” or “extra-judicial killing” or whatever, it’s not okay. Nobody appointed these folks policemen AND judge AND jury AND executioner. Thus is not the way justice is supposed to work.

  6. James Parks

    May 24, 2020 at 9:58 am

    I AM WHITE, OLD AND A SURVIVOR OF THE CIVIL RIGHTS MOVEMENT. I WAS THE WHITEBOY FROM THE WRONG SIDE OF THE TRACKS. WENT TO SCHOOL WITH MARTY YOLANDA AND DEXTER. WENT ON A DOUBLE DATE
    WITH ANDREA (YOUNG). SOUTHWEST HIGH. BEEN IN ANDREW’S KITCHEN ON VELTRE CIR. HAVE SERVED ON A GRAND JURY. HAVE BEEN ARRESTED ABOUT 15 TIMES. ALWAYS COMPLIED WITH THE PO PO. WAS INVOLVED IN SITUATION WITH A BUNCH OF OLDER REDNECKS WHO QUESTIONED “SHOULD WE CALL THE POLICE OR JUST WHIP HIS ASS”. I SAID HANG ON MISTER, I GOT A DIME FOR THE PAY PHONE RIGHT HERE. AS SORRY AS MY FOLKS MAY HAVE BEEN THEY TAUGHT ME HOW TO ACT. SOMEBODY WAS SLACK ON TEACHING HIM. MY DADDY TOLD DON’T START NO S*** WON’T BE NO S***. TOO BAD AMAUD DIDN’T GET THE SAME LEARN’N. PEACE BROTHER.

Check Also

If Trump is innocent, why lock up the evidence?

President Trump has placed a heavy shroud of ...

Join Our Team

NC Policy Watch is hiring two new journalists to join our award-winning team. Click here for more information.  

Top Stories from NCPW

  • News
  • Commentary

Biden says he’ll support election outcome but Trump urges supporters to ‘watch very carefully’ Democ [...]

As part of our ongoing effort to inform North Carolinians about the state judiciary, Policy Watch is [...]

Although not the farmer, Sen. Tom McInnis of Richmond County owns the land A proposed poultry farm n [...]

The last four years have produced little in the way of affirmative policy accomplishments for the Tr [...]

It’s been more than a quarter-century since Justice Clarence Thomas was confirmed to serve on the U. [...]

The post QAnon(sense) appeared first on NC Policy Watch. [...]

Talk from Republican senators about "rules" and "precedent" is nothing but a smo [...]

Supreme Court hypocrisy, effort to infiltrate progressive NC groups ought to be the last straws It s [...]