ATLANTA — The killing of Ahmaud Arbery has become a national flashpoint this week, spurring protests and renewing calls for attention to the systemic inequities black Americans face.
Those inequities are searingly vivid in this case, civil rights activists and groups like the NAACP have said. They highlight the lack of any arrests or charges against the two white men who say they believed Arbery - a black man - had committed robberies in the Brunswick, Ga. neighborhood where he was shot and killed while on a jog.
Activists argue those two men, Gregory McMichael and his son Travis McMichael, have been shielded from accountability thanks to the father's ties to law enforcement as a former Glynn County Police officer and investigator in the district attorney's office.
More than two months since Arbery's February killing, the case is already in the hands of its third district attorney. Two - including the Brunswick Judicial Circuit DA Jackie Johnson, who runs the office where McMichael once worked - closer to the area recused themselves.
"The failure to hold these two individuals accountable for the killing of Mr. Arbery would mean that white citizens may hunt down an unarmed, non-violent Black man in broad daylight and kill him with impunity," the NAACP said in a statement on Wednesday. "Nothing in Georgia law licenses this conduct. The McMichaels must stand trial for this killing."
Here's what we know about the legal status of the case:
- It is in the hands of a district attorney based in Hinesville: The Atlantic Judicial Circuit DA, Thomas Durden, has taken over the case after Johnson and another nearby district attorney both recused themselves over conflicts of interest. Durden's office in Hinesville is about an hour away from Brunswick.
- He has said he will recommend a grand jury weigh charging the McMichaels: "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," Durden wrote in a letter shared this week by Johnson.
- A grand jury cannot review the case until June 13 at the earliest: Georgia's courts remain shut through that time under a public health state of emergency, issued by Gov. Brian Kemp to manage the coronavirus pandemic.
- Durden has not said what charges he would present: The AP spoke to the prosecutor on Tuesday, who acknowledged his intent to bring the case to a grand jury but did not say what charges he would have them weigh.
- The Georgia Bureau of Investigation is now involved in the investigation: The agency said this week it was formally requested by Durden to investigate Arbery's death.
- The GBI is reviewing a video purporting to show the incident: The video is at the center of the case exploding into the nation's spotlight this week. In it, Arbery nears a white truck parked in the street as he's jogging before yelling can be heard, as a camera taking the video from inside a car behind him drifts out of the scene. When it comes back onto the scene, a gunshot can be heard, then a second, then the man who has been identified as Arbery can be seen struggling with a man for what appears to be a shotgun, as the camera again drifts down. When it moves back up, the other man is stepping back and the man believed to be Arbery stumbles forward and falls.
- The video could complicate efforts to compose a jury: Atlanta attorney Latonia Hines explains: "We've got this video that has been shown multiple times and people are watching it – the prosecution’s got to be very careful in this case because what's happening is everybody's watching it. How are you going to find yourself a jury – and this is going to be the question of the defense as well – if this case gets presented to a grand jury, they go for it, they’ve decided there are going to be charges, they build this case ... how do you find a jury that is going to be impartial with this type of coverage?"
- An attorney from the Trayvon Martin case is now working with Arbery's family: Benjamin Crump represented Martin's family in the 2012 killing of the teen boy by a Florida man who claimed self-defense after pursuing him. The circumstances from that case - which helped spark the modern Black Lives Matter movement - have been compared to this one.
- The McMichaels have claimed self-defense: Hines told 11Alive drew the comparison to the Martin case and explained the "self-defense" complicating factor: "This whole idea that a citizen, if they see a crime being committed in front of them, may have the ability under law to stop someone until such time as a law enforcement officer or somebody can come and take custody of that person - but that’s kind of murky here," Hines said. "Because here's one of the issues – and the reason why people are so upset about this is it's much like Trayvon Martin - it becomes this issue of, is it because he's running, and so is it that he is running away from something or is it his reaction because somebody is following behind him? So is it truly self-defense or is it that he’s defending himself? And it becomes very kind of murky."
- They have still not been arrested: As of Thursday morning, no arrests have been made, though attorney S. Lee Merritt told 11Alive on Wednesday he expected one to be made. He called the killing a "modern-day lynching."
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