A 21st-Century Lynching:

Trial Begins for Killers of Ahmaud Arbery

On November 5, opening arguments were made in the trial of three white men who pursued and killed Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year-old Black man, on February 23, 2020, in Glynn County, Georgia. Father and son Gregory and Travis McMichael and their neighbor William Bryan, Jr. face charges of murder, aggravated assault, false imprisonment, and attempt to commit false imprisonment.

On February 23, 2020, Ahmaud Arbery went for a run on a residential street not far from his home near Brunswick, Georgia. He was unarmed, wearing shorts and a T-shirt. Ahmaud had done nothing wrong. But when the McMichaels saw Ahmaud jogging, they armed themselves with a shotgun and a .357 Magnum, got in a truck, and took off in pursuit of him, like a modern-day slave patrol. They were soon joined by Bryan, who also took a video of the hunt, and then murder, of Ahmaud Arbery. The video shows the McMichaels blocking Ahmaud with their truck, one of them standing in the truck bed with a firearm. Travis McMichael, holding a shotgun, jumped out to confront Arbery. Arbery tried to grab the shotgun McMichael used to threaten him. Shots rang out—hitting Arbery twice in his chest and once in his wrist. Ahmaud Arbery lay on the pavement, his life bleeding out of him.

Travis McMichael, man on trial for murder of Ahmaud Arbery, in front of his white Ford truck with vanity plate of the Confederate flag.

 

Travis McMichael, one of the men on trial for murder of Ahmaud Arbery, in front of his white Ford truck with vanity plate of the Confederate flag.   

The Cover Up

The police who arrived on the scene of Ahmaud Arbery’s killing immediately recognized Gregory McMichael as a fellow pig. He had worked for more than 30 years in the Glynn County Police Department, first as a cop, then as an investigator. The McMichaels claimed they had acted in self-defense—they told the police that Ahmaud had acted aggressively, and looked like a “burglary suspect.”

Four days after Ahmaud Arbery’s murder, the district attorney for the Brunswick area recused (removed) herself from the case, because Gregory McMichael had worked in her office for decades. A little over a month later, another prosecutor resigned, after he wrote a letter saying that the three killers had “solid first-hand probable cause” to pursue and stop Arbery, whom he called—without any evidence—a “burglary suspect.” Ten days later, a third prosecutor took over the case.

On May 5, the video of the pursuit and killing of Ahmaud Arbery became public. Outrage and protest erupted in Brunswick, and across the country. People could plainly see how police, prosecutors, and Arbery’s white supremacist assailants had been lying and suppressing information about a cold-blooded murder. On May 7, the two McMichaels were arrested and charged with murder and aggravated assault—about two and a half months after they chased and shot Ahmaud Arbery. Bryan wasn’t arrested and charged for another two weeks.

Over the next few months, fury mounted at the murder of Ahmaud Arbery. Across the U.S., countless people rose in a beautiful rising of struggle, demanding justice for George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and other victims of murder by police and racist vigilantes, and an end to white supremacy. In Georgia, local, state, and federal officials scrambled to contain people’s rage at the murder of Ahmaud and its official cover-up: a fourth prosecutor was appointed to the case; federal charges were filed against the three white men; the state’s attorney general asked the Georgia Bureau of Investigation to investigate the first two prosecutors for “misconduct”; Georgia’s Republi-fascist governor announced that he was repealing a law that the three killers claimed legitimized their pursuit of Ahmaud; and in September the Glynn County D.A. originally in charge of the case was indicted for “showing favor and affection to Greg McMichael” during her initial “investigation.”

Whitewashing the Jury

A thousand people were called as prospective jurors for this case. During jury selection Bryan’s lawyer complained about the jury pool, and threatened to file a motion that Bryan was denied a jury of his peers because middle-aged white men were being discriminated against! He argued, “It would appear that white males born in the South over 40 years old without a college degree... which he might also be known as Bubba or Joe Sixpack... seem to be significantly underrepresented." In fact, Black people were removed at each step of the weeks-long jury selection process.

Glynn County is about 26 percent Black, but the final jury of 12 (plus four alternates) has only one Black person. The judge ruled that the trial would move forward despite acknowledging that there "appears to be intentional discrimination"—since lawyers for the McMichaels and Bryan never openly said they were excluding potential jurors because they were Black, but “presented legitimate reasons unrelated to race,” which is all that a U.S. Supreme Court ruling requires. 

New Evidence of Murderous Intent

In her opening remarks, prosecutor Linda Dunikoski presented new evidence about the three killers’ pursuit of, and deadly assault on, Ahmaud Arbery. She pointed out that the McMichaels and Bryan had “chased Mr. Arbery for five minutes as he ran through their neighborhood ... the McMichaels in one pickup truck and Mr. Bryan in another....” “At some point during the pursuit,” she said, “Gregory McMichael, who was armed with a handgun, said to Mr. Arbery, ‘Stop or I’ll blow your fucking head off.’” Dunikoski said that Bryan tried to hit Ahmaud four times with his truck, and at one point forced him into a ditch. She said the two trucks got so close to him that “Arbery's handprint was found on Bryan's truck, along with fibers from his T-shirt.” Dunikoski played the video that shows Travis McMichael blocking the street with his truck, raising his shotgun, and confronting Ahmaud Arbery.

Despite all this, the lawyer for Travis McMichael said that McMichael acted in “self-defense”! He said Travis McMichael was motivated by his “‘duty and responsibility’ to his family and neighborhood.” He said McMichael thought Ahmaud Arbery had committed a burglary, and that Georgia law gave him the right to carry out a “citizen’s arrest” (see more here). He made the reality-defying claim that McMichael, who had pursued the unarmed Ahmaud with his truck for five minutes, then confronted him with his shotgun at the ready, acted “honestly, and lawfully to attempt to detain Ahmaud Arbery according to the law and shot and killed him in self-defense." He even argued that once Ahmaud resisted an assault by three armed men, he gave Travis McMichael “no choice” but to shoot, because “if this guy [Ahmaud Arbery] gets his gun, he’s dead or his dad’s dead.”

This Must End

Ahmaud Arbery lived in a state that for centuries has been infamous for its relentless, brutal oppression of Black people: slavery, savagely enforced Jim Crow segregation, murderous KKK-led lynch mobs, chain gangs, deeply exploited sharecroppers, mass incarceration. A state where the Republi-fascist governor recently signed a bill aimed at disenfranchising (preventing from voting) Black people “with uncanny accuracy,” according to one study. He lived in a country where the legal system and its enforcers allow Black people—like Breonna Taylor, Philando Castile, and countless others—to be gunned down by cops and racist vigilantes, while their blood-soaked killers walk free. Ahmaud was hunted down and murdered in broad daylight by racist vigilantes, then vilified by cops and prosecutors who lied about and covered up the circumstances of his death. Now, his killers are using a law designed to protect slave catchers and used for decades as a defense of lynchings, in a trial overseen by a judge who has allowed a virtually all-white jury to decide their case.

Open white supremacy is “coming back” with a vengeance in this country. It is publicly flaunted, encouraged and legislatedin a way it hasn’t been for decades, through things like the “stand your ground” laws that George Zimmerman successfully used as defense in the trial for the racist murder of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin and that was cited by a white man who shot another unarmed 17-year-old, Jordan Davis, for playing music too loud as he sat in a car with friends in a store parking lot. And now, Ahmaud Arbery’s killers claim that they were making a “citizen’s arrest” of a burglar—and do so before a nearly all-white jury.

This trial—and both the larger history behind it and the present-day trends it concentrates—poses a sharp challenge to everyone: how long will this go on? And what will you do to stop it?

(Revcom.us will continue to monitor and report on the state and federal trials of Ahmaud Arbery’s killers, and events around them, as they develop.)

The Slave-Catching Origins of Georgia’s “Citizen’s Arrest” Law

Ahmaud Arbery’s killers cite Georgia’s “citizen’s arrest” law, along with their claim of “self-defense,” as justification for their chase and murderous assault on Ahmaud Arbery. Georgia’s citizen’s arrest law was first passed in 1863. That was also the year Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, and when the U.S. Civil War had begun to turn against the slaveholding Confederacy Georgia was part of. Maintaining the barbaric and brutal slave-based plantation economy of the state was a big concern of the slave masters. The law’s immediate purpose was to enable and “legitimize” white civilians hunting down and arresting slavesfor the “crime” of trying to escape, including to join Union forces. Joseph Margulies, a criminal law expert at Cornell University, accurately described the law as being “basically a catching-fleeing-slave law."

But in the decades after the Civil War, the “citizen’s arrest” law became a bulwark of Georgia’s white supremacist Jim Crow regime, and its “lynch law.” There were more lynchings of Black men in Georgia than any state other than Mississippi—531 “recorded lynchings” in Georgia alone, according to the NAACP. As Mercer University professor Tim Floyd told a reporter, “Often, during the lynching era, these white mobs would claim that they were exercising the right of citizen's arrest.” At least two horrific lynchings of Black men by white mobs were carried out in Glynn County, where Ahmaud Arbery was killed. These murderous events sent a warning to all Black people in the area that they could be seized and lynched by a mob at any moment for any alleged “wrongdoing.”

Georgia governor Brian Kemp revoked the 1863 citizen’s arrest law when outrage against the murder of Ahmaud Arbery and other Black people by police and racists ripped across Georgia, and Atlanta in particular was the scene of repeated, massive outpourings of protest and confrontations with the police. But the slave era law is still legally valid to use in trials of crimes committed before its repeal. The lawyer for William Bryan, one of Ahmaud Arbery’s assailants, said, "Citizen's arrest is a big part of our case, a big part. They changed the law, but changing the law doesn't affect us. It doesn't change what was the law of the land at the time."

As Bob Avakian said in his talk, The Trump/Pence Regime Must Go!, In The Name of Humanity, We REFUSE to Accept a Fascist America, A Better World IS Possible:

There is a direct line from the Confederacy to the fascists of today, and a direct connection between their white supremacy, their open disgust and hatred for LGBT people as well as women, their willful rejection of science and the scientific method, their raw “America First” jingoism and trumpeting of “the superiority of western civilization” and their bellicose wielding of military power, including their expressed willingness and blatant threats to use nuclear weapons, to destroy countries.

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