On this dayFeb 23, 2020

Two White Men Kill Ahmaud Arbery; Police Decline to Arrest Them for Months

On February 23, 2020, 25-year-old Ahmaud Arbery was shot and killed by two white men while he was out jogging in Satilla Shores, Georgia, the suburban neighborhood he had been living in with his mother. After the shooting, Mr. Arbery’s killers (an ex-police officer and his son) were allowed to leave the scene and faced no consequences for months, as local officials refused to fully investigate, misrepresented the circumstances surrounding the shooting, and rejected efforts to hold the men accountable. It was not until video footage of the shooting surfaced and national attention focused that officials finally arrested the two white men.

Mr. Arbery, a high school football star, ran regularly in the neighborhood. That morning he jogged past Gregory McMichael, a 64-year-old former police officer and retired investigator for the Brunswick district attorney’s office who was standing in his front yard.

Mr. McMichael called out to his son, Travis McMichael, to tell him that Mr. Arbery “looked like” the suspect in a string of break-ins that had occurred in the neighborhood. The two men grabbed guns, got into their pick-up truck, and began chasing Mr. Arbery, shouting at him to stop running.

Once they caught up to Mr. Arbery, Travis McMichael jumped out of the truck with his shotgun, startling Mr. Arbery. After a struggle over the gun, Travis McMichael shot Mr. Arbery, who was unarmed, three times, killing him.

The Glynn County Police Department arrived on the scene to investigate, but rather than treat the McMichaels as suspects who had chased and killed an unarmed Black jogger, the officers let both men go home. A police investigator then called Mr. Arbery’s mother, Wanda Cooper-Jones, and lied to her, saying her son had been involved in a burglary during which the homeowner killed him.

The prosecutor assigned to Mr. Arbery’s case concluded that the McMichaels were legally carrying their guns under Georgia’s open carry law and were within their rights to chase Mr. Arbery under the citizen’s arrest statute. He also suggested that the two armed white men were right to be suspicious and afraid of unarmed Mr. Arbery because he had an “aggressive nature,” underlining the presumption of dangerousness and guilt young Black men are forced to navigate on a daily basis. Evidence later revealed that Travis McMichael and William Bryan repeatedly used overtly racist language in text messages and social media posts before and after Mr. Arbery's murder. 

In early May 2020, nearly three months after Mr. Arbery was killed, a video of the shooting filmed by William Bryan, who had been following the McMichaels in a second vehicle, was released online. The video drew national attention to Mr. Arbery’s case and outrage over the fact that no one had been prosecuted for the killing.

Under national scrutiny, and only after the video of Mr. Arbery’s shooting was widely distributed across news outlets and social media, District Attorney Tom Durden announced a grand jury would decide whether charges would be brought.

Seventy-four days after killing Mr. Arbery, the McMichaels were arrested. A grand jury later indicted them, as well as William Bryan, on charges of malice murder, felony murder, and aggravated assault. In November 2021, a jury found the McMichaels and Mr. Bryan guilty of murder. Three months later, following a federal hate crimes trial, a second jury determined that the defendants had been motivated by racism and found them guilty of hate crimes. "As a mother I will never heal," Ahmaud Arbery's mother, Wanda Cooper-Jones, said following the verdict. "They gave us a small sense of victory, but we will never get victory because Ahmaud is dead."

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