Yesterday, the three men responsible for the lynching of Ahmaud Arbery were found guilty of felony murder in a court of law — prompting many to declare that justice had been served. But this conviction alone isn’t enough.
To recap, Arbery was a 25-year old Black man, former high school football player, and avid jogger. He went for a run in February of 2020 in a neighborhood outside of Brunswick, Georgia. During the course of his run, he paused to examine new construction in the area, and then went about his way, a detour that was caught on video. A neighbor called 911 to report this activity. (For reasons that still remain unclear—it isn’t a crime to look at a construction site, Karen).
Arbery’s course then took him past the house of a former police officer and former investigator for the District Attorney, George McMichael. George decided on sight that Arbery must be the man responsible for a string of recent break-ins in the area. He called his son Travis, and together the two grabbed their guns, jumped in their truck, and pursued Arbery. They were joined in their pursuit by their neighbor, William “Roddie” Bryan, who filmed the ordeal.
The three men cornered Arbery, and as we can see in the video of the altercation, he attempted to fight them off (as any sane person would) before they shot him in the middle of the street.
(If you want to watch for yourself, this is the video. But I must warn you that it is highly upsetting to witness).
To the vast majority of the country, this was an open and shut case. Georgia, at the time of the crime, had an old slavery-era law on the books that allowed citizens to detain and arrest other citizens. But, the statute required that they have “reasonable and probable grounds of suspicion” that the person had just committed a felony. The McMichaels and Bryan of course had no such grounds whatsoever.
This murder became such an embarrassment to the state of Georgia that it prompted the state to finally overturn this law and pass the state’s first-ever hate crime legislation. These are good developments, and the outcome of the trial is a welcomed relief to many who feared that our justice system’s racial bias would lead to softer sentences for the men.
But these developments are not justice. They are merely accountability for some—the McMichaels and Bryan—and damage control for others—politicians and law enforcement who’ve worked to entrench the powers of our disgusting “justice” system for decades. And, some of those who should have faced accountability for their actions in this scenario have faced few to no consequences. That group includes the initial prosecutors and law enforcement involved in this case.
It’s important to remember that no charges were brought against the men responsible for Arbery’s death for over two months. And, had video of the crime not been leaked to the public online, it’s likely prosecutors never would have brought charges at all. In fact, multiple prosecutors worked overtime to protect these men.
Former Brunswick Judicial Circuit District Attorney Jackie Johnson, who George McMichael had previously worked for, was one of the first calls placed after the shooting occurred. In a voicemail recording included in the case file George says, “Jackie, this is Greg. Could you call me as soon as you possibly can? My son and I have been involved in a shooting and I need some advice right away.”
Johnson recused herself from the case shortly thereafter, but according to reporting from NPR an indictment against her says she “showed ‘favor and affection’ toward Greg McMichael in the investigation and interfered with police officers at the scene by ‘directing that Travis McMichael should not be placed under arrest.’”
Body camera footage from the first responders at the scene indicates the police officers also knew George McMichael. From the recording:
First officer: “You know Greg?”
Second officer: “No I don’t know him.”
First officer: “Really? He was the chief investigator for the DA’s office.”
Second officer: “This guy here?”
First officer: “He just retired.”
Police often work to cover for one another. And whether or not they did so here given McMichael’s background, or because of pressure from the DA, the results were the same and no arrests were made.
After Johnson recused herself, she recommended Waycross Judicial Circuit District Attorney George Barnhill take over the case. From her indictment we now know she communicated with him about the case beforehand, and that his son worked for her as an assistant prosecutor—giving reason to believe she hand-picked him to ensure he would handle the case in the same manner she would.
Ample evidence shows Barnhill then worked diligently to protect the McMichaels and Bryan from charges.
Barnhill wrote a letter to the Glynn County police captain that said the McMichaels “were following, in hot pursuit, a burglary suspect, with solid first-hand probable cause, in their neighborhood, and asking/telling him to stop.”
“It appears their intent was to stop and hold this criminal suspect until law enforcement arrived. Under Georgia Law this is perfectly legal,” Barnhill advised.
According to The New York Times, “In an April 7, 2020, email to the office of Chris Carr, the Georgia attorney general, Mr. Barnhill, the prosecutor, said that his office had ‘video of Arbery burglarizing a home immediately preceding the chase and confrontation.’” They of course had no such thing.
Barnhill eventually recused himself as well, though he has not been indicted for his work to skew the case.
All in all, you can see that police and multiple prosecutors worked to protect these men from accountability for months. The national media did not get wind of the case, no charges were filed, no one spoke out in protest (so much for those “good apples”), and the prevailing narrative cooked up by these government thugs would likely have stood had it not been for the video leaking (video they were in possession of all along).
Ironically, the man who leaked the video was an attorney and friend of the McMichaels, Alan Tucker. He believed the video would prevent riots and claims that the murder had been a modern-day lynching. It, of course, showed the opposite to absolutely anyone who isn’t entirely insane.
The McMichaels and Bryan will now serve time, but the system that worked to protect them still stands strong. What happened in this case isn’t justice, it’s a small sliver of accountability. Real justice requires major reforms that prevent prosecutorial misconduct like we saw here from ever happening again.