The Hate Crime Against Ahmaud Arbery

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Caedyn Lipovsky, Opinion/News Editor

February 23rd, 2020. This was the day that the innocent African American man, Ahmaud Arbery, was shot down by two white supremacists. The shooting was so horrific that many, like Shaun King, a social media activist, have even described it as a “lynching.” The men involved in the shooting, Travis and Gregory McMichael, justified their actions to police and authorities with the made-up series of burglaries in their predominantly white suburban Georgia neighborhood. 

Ahmaud Arbery was a man living in Georgia who truly loved to run. He was a former high school football superstar, so running was his way to stay active. Arbery’s mother, Wanda Cooper Jones, in an interview with Good Morning America, described Ahmaud as having “the most humbled spirit”, “kind”, “well-mannered”, and “loved by his family and peers.”

Although Ahmaud was shot and killed on February 23rd, his case hadn’t received enough attention to get his killers arrested until the release of the video of the shooting in early May. The video shows two men, Travis McMichael, 34, son of Gregory McMichael, 64, in their Satilla Shores neighborhood in a pick-up truck. The video was filmed by a third person, William Roddy Bryan. Bryan’s attorney, Kevin Gough, reported in a CBS news interview that he “only drove to the scene after he saw commotion from his home.” Next to Travis and Gregory is Ahmaud Arbery, an African American man who was going on his daily jog. Arbery attempts to go around the McMichael’s pick-up truck, but before he can, the two men attack him and shoot him twice in the chest, causing him to die of his wounds within minutes. 

After police arrived on the scene, Gregory McMichael explained in an interview that he thought Arbery looked like a man who was suspected in several break-ins in the area. However, this accusation against Arbery was refuted later by the local news source, Brunswick News, which cited that there had been only one burglary in the neighborhood since January, the theft of a handgun from an unlocked truck parked outside Travis McMichael’s home. Additionally, Brunswick News had also reported details of the Glynn County Police Department’s records of the shooting. It was revealed that the only thing included in the report was the responding officer’s interview with Gregory McMichael, where he claimed that after they pursued Arbery, Travis and Arbery began fighting over the shotgun, at which Gregory fired shots. 

Before the release of the video, Arbery’s case was jumping from one prosecutor to the next. On February 27th, the initial prosecutor of the case, Jackie L. Johnson, recused herself from the case, because of her connection to Gregory McMichael, a former Glynn County police officer who had been a longtime investigator in her office until his retirement last year. Then, in early April, after the case had received little to attention, the second prosecutor, George E. Barnhill, argued that there was no reason to arrest the McMichaels, because, as stated by The New York Times, “they had acted legally under Georgia’s citizen arrest and self-defense laws.” Barnhill then proceeded to recuse himself from the case because his son had worked with Gregory McMichael in the Brunswick prosecutors office. Then, on April 13th, the case was given to a third prosecutor, District Attorney Tom Durden.

 Finally, following the release of the video, Gregory and Travis McMichael are arrested for murder and aggravated assault. 

Uproar and protests have resulted from the shooting of Ahmaud Arbery. It is the 21st century, wherein America, “justice” and “equality” apparently exist. But how can we claim that these values that we emphasize everyday exist, when the shooting of an innocent man almost went unnoticed. It is horrifically unacceptable that because the video of him being shot was leaked to the world, that the case received more attention from our judicial system. The case of Ahmaud Arbery comes to show that racism and injustice for men and women of color exist. Arbery was a man who loved to run. An innocent man shot dead in the middle of the road. For what reason? The color of his skin. 

These white men shot Arbery because he was a black man. They built their case on the fact that all African American’s are dangerous. A belief that has been developing more and more in our society as a result of police brutality and injustice that we see in cases like Arbery’s. Every white man or police officer who shoots an African American man is given the benefit of the doubt, because of reasons that our justice system seems to find acceptable. Reasons ranging from “I thought he was armed,” and “it was self-defense.” Our system isn’t colorblind. Race in many cases is the first thing that people look at when choosing their outcome of innocence or guilt. 

Arbery’s case isn’t the only instance of injustice that the world has seen. In the early 90s, a group of boys, the oldest being 16, was accused of the rape and attempted murder of jogger, Trisha Meili, in Central Park, New York City. Many might know this case as The Central Park Five. One night, the five young boys joined some other boys at Central Park. Most of them hadn’t known most of the others, but truthfully they were just a few young boys who were at the wrong place at the wrong time. Each was brought to the police station to get talked to by police as witnesses to the crime. Once NYC police realized that they didn’t have any evidence or any real suspects, they assumed that the boys were the suspects. The police then proceeded to coerce them into lies that they were involved in the crime. Although they were told that they would be brought home after being questioned, the prosecution brought them to court, whereas many know, the boys were found guilty of many crimes. The young, innocent boys spent years in juvie, excluding 16-year-old Korey Wise who spent time in prison. When all the boys, except Wise, were released from prison, the man who actually committed the rape and attempted murder had finally come forward. These boys had lost their childhoods and futures to injustice, much like many others. Although this case differs from that of Arberys, it truly shows the wide-range of injustice in a variety of cases. It also demonstrates how long injustice in our system has existed with the additional existence of “colorblindness” in our justice system. 

There is a time when action needs to be taken. Although the men who shot Arbery were finally arrested, the fight for justice is never over. Innocent men and women should not be dying at the hands of the injustice in our system. Childhoods should not be lost, because of skin color.  No one should fear to run outside, because of skin color. How can we as Americans pride ourselves with freedom and equality when men and women are dying for reasons that cannot be explained? The hate crime wasn’t just against Ahmaud Arbery, but every person of color who has witnessed injustice. The system needs change, and many are tired of waiting.