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Third White Man Arrested for Murder in Ahmaud Arbery Shooting as DOJ Considers Hate Crime Charges

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Image Credit: Courtesy E. Mackey

Authorities have arrested a third white man for the killing of Ahmaud Arbery, this one charged with felony murder and criminal attempt to commit false imprisonment. We speak with civil rights attorney Benjamin Crump about how William Bryan filmed Arbery jogging down a narrow road in Brunswick, Georgia, in broad daylight, before he was confronted by two armed white men — retired police officer Gregory McMichael and his son Travis — who shot him three times. “This was never about any trespassing or burglary,” Crump says. “This was always about profiling Ahmaud Arbery because of the color of his skin.”

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StoryFeb 23, 2022On Anniv. of Ahmaud Arbery’s Murder, Family Welcomes Historic Hate Crime Guilty Verdict for Killers
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Following weeks of outcry, authorities have arrested a third white man for the killing of Ahmaud Arbery, the 25-year-old Black man who was chased down and shot to death February 23rd while on a job on a Sunday in Georgia. William Bryan was arrested Thursday on charges of felony murder and criminal attempt to commit false imprisonment. He filmed the disturbing video showing Arbery jogging down a narrow road in Brunswick, Georgia, in broad daylight, before being confronted by two armed white men and shot three times.

The three men walked free for months after Arbery’s murder. But after the video went viral and sparked mass outrage, Arbery’s attackers — retired police officer Greg McMichael and his son Travis — were both arrested and charged with murder and aggravated assault earlier this month. Lee Merritt, the Arbery family attorney, said the video shows Arbery was chased by the McMichaels in their car for over four minutes before they killed him.

Gregory McMichael is a former Glynn County police officer who also worked as a prosecutorial investigator. Advocates say McMichael’s ties to law enforcement shielded him from immediate arrest for Arbery’s killing, and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation has opened an investigation into Arbery’s case for possible prosecutorial misconduct. Brunswick Judicial Circuit DA Jackie Johnson recused herself from the case because McMichael had worked in her office as an investigator. The Arbery case has passed through four district attorneys’ offices.

Ahmaud Arbery was murdered after briefly entering a construction site. Texts uncovered over the weekend show a Glynn County police officer instructed the owner of the property to notify Greg McMichael if he noticed any trespassers. But surveillance video shows multiple people, a number of them white, entered the construction site to look around, but only Arbery was killed for the alleged trespassing. The homeowner Larry English’s attorney has issued a statement that said, quote, “It now appears that this young man may have been coming onto the property for water,” unquote.

The U.S. Justice Department says it will review the case to see if federal hate crime charges can be pursued. But such charges cannot be pursued by state authorities because Georgia is one of three Southern states that has no hate crime law.

For more, we go to Tallahassee, Florida, where we’re joined by Ben Crump, civil rights attorney representing the family of Ahmaud Arbery. He’s the author of Open Season: Legalized Genocide of Colored People.

Welcome back to Democracy Now!, Ben. Can you start off by talking about the significance of the arrest of this third person? Usually, people who open their cellphone and start filming are hailed as the people who break a case. The film certainly provided the fodder for the arrests, months after Ahmaud was killed. But what about this man?

BENJAMIN CRUMP: Well, as Ahmaud Arbery’s family and my co-counsels have maintained from the beginning, we believe that William “Roddie” Bryan was part of this organized gang that was attempting, based on a premeditated plan, to confront and capture Ahmaud Arbery as he jogged through that community that day. And the text message that was sent by police officer Robert Rash to the homeowner, saying that, “If you see him again, don’t call the police. Call Gregory McMichael. He’s a former police officer” — so, we believe this was an organized mob that was planning on confronting Ahmaud. So it is wholly appropriate that he was arrested and charged.

When you look at what Gregory McMichael said on day one, he said that Roddie attempted to cut off the jogger as he was running. And then we visually see objective evidence: For four minutes, they chase Ahmaud Arbery in that community as he tries to escape and run for his life. So, Ahmaud Arbery’s family is very relieved, because they have maintained they want everybody who was part of this lynch mob, who executed their child, to be arrested and held accountable.

AMY GOODMAN: So, this arrest came just after the raiding of the home of McMichael. Him and his son are in jail right now — McMichael, again, a former investigator and Glynn County police officer. Is that right? And what do you understand they found in the house?

BENJAMIN CRUMP: Well, they have not revealed the contents of what they found in the house. The Georgia Bureau of Investigation is set to have a press conference today at 9 a.m. Eastern Standard Time. They may divulge some of that information if they can. But we do know that they are looking, based on what the family has tried to demand for equal justice for their son, connections between each and every person who was part of this lynch mob, this organized effort that was premeditated.

And so, when you think about the charges of felony murder and criminal intent to commit false imprisonment, William “Roddie” Bryan is guilty of those charges, much in the same way if you have young people who make a miscalculated, stupid decision to go into a convenience store with the intent to rob the store, and you have somebody sitting in the car. Well, if a person is killed who’s working at that store, everybody is charged. The person inside who did the shooting is charged with murder, and the person who was aiding and abetting, driving the car, is charged with felony murder. So, it’s no different in this situation, when you think about how they executed Ahmaud Arbery and each and everybody who played a part in aiding and abetting in this crime.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to go to Kevin Gough, the attorney for William “Roddie” Bryan, speaking on Monday. He directed a message to you, Ben Crump, and S. Lee Merritt, saying you have put his client in danger.

KEVIN GOUGH: I want to take a moment and speak directly to Benjamin Crump and S. Lee Merritt, two of the lawyers for the Arbery family. I’m not here tonight to argue with you about the evidence. I reached discreetly — I discreetly reached out previously through community leaders. I pleaded with you a week ago on national television. I do not know whether you have heard my pleas or whether you chose to ignore them, so I will try again. Mr. Bryan is not your enemy. My plea is this: Please stop. Please stop doing and saying things that place the lives of Roddie and his family in danger. Whether you realize it or not, y’all have put a target on his back. He is unarmed and defenseless — a sitting duck. I understand your passion and your zeal for justice, but, respectfully, the ends don’t justify the means.

AMY GOODMAN: So, that was before he was arrested. That was the attorney. Ben Crump, your response?

BENJAMIN CRUMP: Certainly. You know, since he made this plea directly to me and my Omega brother Lee Merritt, let me respond directly to him. Ahmaud Arbery was unarmed and defenseless when he was executed in broad daylight. And furthermore, since he says our calls for his client to be arrested somehow put his client in danger, we want him to know that the Arbery family is very relieved, and he can be very relieved, because the rule of law has prevailed and that his client was arrested based on evidence and probable cause. And he has no fear to worry about his client being in danger, because I am certain that he is safe in the Glynn County jail. And our clients, the Arbery family, would wish for him to remain safe and stay in the Glynn County jail for a long time, as they continue to push for justice for their son, Ahmaud Arbery.

AMY GOODMAN: Ben Crump, the video keeps showing Ahmaud Arbery going into this construction site where a house is being built. But other video has been released that shows white people, over and over again, going into this construction site. You know, it’s a house being built. It’s completely open. A white couple, for example, that very day, walking in, sort of touring around.

BENJAMIN CRUMP: Yes, ma’am. And that underscores the point that this was never about any trespassing or burglary. This was always about profiling Ahmaud Arbery because of the color of his skin. And we are requesting and imploring the federal Department of Justice to handle this matter as a hate crime. There can be a parallel prosecution with the state district attorney who’s assigned to the case, as well as the Department of Justice, under the Shepard Hate Crime Act, because we believe Ahmaud Arbery was killed based on the color of his skin. He was lynched in 2020. And we have to send a message, not only to his family and community, but to the entire world, that, America, we are better than this.

AMY GOODMAN: Ben Crump, also, what about the Justice Department, the calls for them to open a hate crimes investigation into what happened? I mean, clearly, the two men, Greg McMichael and his son — Greg McMichael, former police officer, investigator — they walked free for months, before the video got out. The question of the corruption within the Glynn County, the district attorney, all of that, going — well, now the question of where the Justice Department is.

BENJAMIN CRUMP: Absolutely. We want the Justice Department to not only open a hate crime investigation, but we want them to look at the due process of law violations under the 14th Amendment involving everybody who was involved in this investigation, from the police officers who were first on the scene to the first DA, Jackie Johnson, who, it is alleged, told the police not to file charges in the case; to the second district attorney, Barnhill, who also said, like Jackie Johnson, he had a conflict of interest, but yet wrote a memorandum saying that he saw no probable cause to arrest this murderous father-and-son duo, and, in essence, put his thumb on the scales of justice in favor of the McMichaels; and the third prosecutor, who said when he looked at this video and he looked at all this evidence, the statements, said that he didn’t feel he could arrest them, that he had to take it to a grand jury; and so, the Glynn County Sheriff’s Department, who leaked the video of Ahmaud Arbery from three years prior, we believe, in an attempt to assassinate his character, as well as Robert Rash, the police officer who sent the text to the homeowner that condoned and encouraged this vigilante mob to capture and confront Ahmaud Arbery.

AMY GOODMAN: Shaun King said yesterday classmates of Travis McMichael said he was the single most racist man they ever knew and that when they heard he had been involved in this, they were not shocked.

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