WARNING: This story contains video and details that some readers may find disturbing. Please read at your own discretion.
Ahmaud Arbery, 25, was out for a jog in Brunswick, Ga., when two men allegedly ambushed him in a pickup truck and shot him dead on Feb. 23.
The white father and son, identified as Gregory and Travis McMichael, told police they thought Arbery was a burglary suspect, so they grabbed their guns and ventured out to confront him.
They were never arrested or charged.
Newly released video has sparked fury over the brazen killing and renewed the outcry over racial injustice in the United States. Lawyers for Arbery’s family say the video shows his targeted murder.
Celebrities, athletes, politicians, activists and many everyday people have joined the call demanding “Justice for Ahmaud” and urging prison time for the white father-and-son duo thought to have committed the killing.
“We’re literally hunted EVERYDAY/EVERYTIME we step foot outside the comfort of our homes!” NBA star LeBron James tweeted on Wednesday. “Can’t even go for a damn jog, man!”
“The video is clear: Ahmaud Arbery was killed in cold blood,” former vice-president Joe Biden, the Democrats’ presumptive nominee for president, wrote on Twitter. “It is time for a swift, full, and transparent investigation into his murder.”
“The lack of an immediate response to the modern day lynching of Ahmaud Arbery is an injustice for all Black people,” Bernice King, daughter of Martin Luther King Jr., tweeted in response to the video.
Arbery’s family has been growing increasingly frustrated with the case over the last two months after no arrests were made in connection with his killing.
The case has been thrust into the national spotlight in the U.S. after activist Shaun King released video of the brazen attack on Twitter. King told the Guardian that the video was provided by an anonymous witness.
“I am trembling with anger over what I just witnessed,” King wrote in his post.
Arbery’s mother says she hopes the video will lead to justice for her son — but she has no intention of watching it herself.
“I saw my son come into the world,” she said. “And seeing him leave the world, it’s not something I’ll want to see ever.”
The 36-second video was shot from the vehicle of a witness who trailed behind a Black jogger on a residential road in Brunswick. The video is shaky and appears to have been shot on a cellphone.
The video starts with the Black man jogging along a two-lane, semi-rural road ahead of the witness. A white pickup truck can be seen stopped across one lane ahead of him. One man is standing by the truck’s open driver door. The other is standing in the bed of the vehicle.
The jogger slows down, then tries to run around the passenger’s side of the vehicle. Shouting can be heard, and just as the jogger comes around the front of the vehicle, he’s grabbed by the man from the driver’s side, who appears to be holding a shotgun.
A shot rings out. The jogger and the man on the ground start grappling over the shotgun, and the shotgun goes off. They continue wrestling, the jogger punches the man in the head and a third shot is fired.
The man with the shotgun backs away from the jogger while the other man — who appears to be holding a pistol — climbs down from the truck bed.
The Black jogger staggers a few steps, then falls to the ground.
Gregory McMichael and his son, Travis, told police they thought Arbery was a burglary suspect, according to the incident report filed by Glynn County police. McMichael claimed that the jogger matched the description of someone spotted breaking into a house in the area, so he and his adult son grabbed their guns and pursued him in their truck.
McMichael said Travis confronted Arbery while holding a shotgun and that Arbery “began to violently attack” Travis when he saw the weapon. The elder McMichael claimed that Arbery was shot while the two men fought over the shotgun, according to the police report.
The video shows the victim was still running when the first shot was fired.
After Arbery was shot, McMichael said he turned the victim onto his back to see if he was armed, according to the police report. The report did not mention whether a weapon was found.
No arrests were made or charges filed in connection with the incident. However, an outside prosecutor said on Tuesday that he wants a grand jury to decide if criminal charges are warranted in the case. That won’t happen for at least a month, as Georgia’s courts are more or less closed down until at least June 13 due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“I am of the opinion that the case should be presented to the grand jury of Glynn County for consideration of criminal charges against those involved in the death of Mr. Arbery,” prosecutor Tom Durden said in a statement Tuesday.
Many have directed their fury at Republican Gov. Brian Kemp and law enforcement over their failure to make any arrests in the case.
“Based on the video footage and news reports that I have seen, I am deeply concerned with the events surrounding the shooting of Ahmaud Arbery,” said Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr in a statement on Tuesday. He added that he “stands ready” to help Durden and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) with their investigation. “I expect justice to be carried out as swiftly as possible.”
“I realize that emotions are running high in this community and they’re running high throughout this state,” said GBI director Vic Reynolds in a statement. “And the last thing anyone wants to do is extend us any patience. But I also realize that this investigation must be done correctly.”
Hollywood director Ava DuVernay urged her followers to speak out about the case on social media, over the phone and in safe, socially distanced protests.
“If you are in Georgia and are comfortable going outside with social distancing protocols, please safely support this family whose loved one was murdered in cold blood while jogging,” she wrote on Twitter.
Photos of Arbery and the McMichaels have also been circulating widely on Twitter since the video emerged.
“These men were vigilantes, they were a posse and they performed a modern lynching in the middle of the day,” said Lee Merritt, a lawyer for Arbery’s mother.
More than 815,000 people have signed a petition demanding justice for Ahmaud under the slogan “Run with Maud.” The page was set up by The Action PAC, a political action committee that lists Merritt as its treasurer in federal filings.
Georgia law says a person can kill in self-defence “only if he or she reasonably believes that such force is necessary to prevent death or great bodily injury … or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony.” The law also says a person who provokes an attack or acts as “the aggressor” can’t claim self-defence.
Glynn County’s district attorney, Jackie Johnson, recused herself from the case because Gregory McMichael worked as an investigator in her office. George Barnhill, the first outside prosecutor on the case, also stepped away in mid-April. His son works as an assistant prosecutor for Johnson.
Multiple outlets report that phone numbers connected to the McMichaels have been disconnected.
Protesters marched around the Georgia Capitol in Atlanta on Tuesday to demand immediate arrests in the case, even before a grand jury can be assembled.
“We’re going to walk and run in his spirit because that is what he was doing when he was murdered,” attorney and protest organizer Brian Ponder told WSBT-TV on Wednesday.
Ponder says the video confirmed his suspicion that Arbery was “murdered.”
“It’s all speculation until you see it on video, and he was certainly targeted by them,” Ponder said. He added that there is “no reason to wait” and that officials should immediately make arrests in the case.
“I’m not just going to stand by and not say anything and be silent,” Ponder added.
“It’s Ahmaud Arbery today, but it could be any of us tomorrow.”
— With files from the Associated Press