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“A Lynch Mob”: After Months of Inaction, 2 White Men Are Charged with Murder of Ahmaud Arbery in GA

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The two white men caught on camera shooting and killing Ahmaud Arbery, an unarmed 25-year-old African American man, were arrested and charged Thursday with murder. The arrests came two days after video of the attack in February was shared with the public, sparking widespread outrage. Today would have been Arbery’s 26th birthday. We speak with civil rights attorney Benjamin Crump, who represents the Arbery family and formerly represented Trayvon Martin.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: The two white men who were caught on film shooting and killing Ahmaud Arbery, an unarmed 25-year-old African American man, in February, were arrested and charged with murder, two days after the video was shared with the public, sparking widespread outrage. Retired police officer Gregory McMichael and his son Travis were both charged with murder and aggravated assault, and booked in Glynn County, Georgia, where the killing took place more than two months ago. Their arrests follow days of protest over the details of the case and the fact that the two men walked free for months after slaying Arbery.

The disturbing video that emerged Tuesday shows Ahmaud Arbery jogging down a narrow road in Brunswick, Georgia, in broad daylight, when he’s confronted by the two armed men. As Arbery jogs, Travis McMichael can be seen waiting for him in the road with a shotgun while his father stands in the back of a pickup truck with a revolver. After a brief confrontation, Arbery is shot at three times. The Georgia Bureau of Investigations said in a news briefing Travis McMichael is the one who shot and killed Ahmaud Arbery.

The video was filmed by a third white man, William Bryan. Journalist Shaun King said on Twitter Friday Bryan is also being charged but has not yet been arrested. The Brunswick police reportedly had a copy of the shocking video since February, but before Thursday no charges had been filed against the McMichaels, who claimed they chased Arbery because he looked like a burglary suspect. Gregory McMichael is a former officer with the Glynn County Police Department, who also worked as an investigator in the District Attorney’s Office there.

This is Ahmaud Arbery’s mother, Wanda Cooper, in an exclusive interview last week with activist and journalist Shaun King for his new podcast, The Breakdown.

WANDA COOPER: He was killed, and he was killed in the street, after he was chased down and cut off by two vehicles. And nobody went to jail.

SHAUN KING: Right.

WANDA COOPER: Nobody went to jail behind it. You know, they were able to go home, and my baby was placed in a body bag. You know, that’s not — that’s not fair.

AMY GOODMAN: Today would have been Ahmaud Arbery’s 26th birthday. The local NAACP chapter will protest outside the Brunswick courthouse in Georgia today. Under the hashtag #IRunWithMaud, people are pledging to run 2.23 miles today to mark the day Ahmaud Arbery was killed, February 23rd, and send pictures.

We’re joined now by Benjamin Crump, civil rights attorney representing the family of Ahmaud Arbery. He is the author of Open Season: Legalized Genocide of Colored People.

Welcome back to Democracy Now!, Ben Crump. Can you explain what exactly happened? We are seeing this video for the first time this week, but Ahmaud was murdered on February 23rd. What happened?

BENJAMIN CRUMP: Well, Amy, it is clear from the video that this murderous duo, this father and son, the McMichaels, profiled Ahmaud Arbery, we believe, because the basis of his race. They claim that, like with Trayvon Martin, that he was burglarizing a home or he had committed a burglary, yet there’s no burglary mask, there’s no burglary tools, there’s no burglary bag. I mean, he has a T-shirt and shorts on. But yet they claim that’s the reason they stopped him.

And when you look at the video, it harkens back to yesteryears, things we thought we had overcome in America. I mean, it looks like it’s a lynch mob chasing a young Black man. And when they kill him, there is no accountability. They go home and sleep in their beds at night.

And it takes 74 days before there is an arrest. And the arrest was not because the police or the law enforcement individuals saw the video, because they had it on day one, in February. It’s because we saw the video, Amy. That’s why we got an arrest, finally, after all these days, even though these men chased him with a shotgun and a .357 Magnum, and they executed Ahmaud Arbery in broad daylight.

AMY GOODMAN: I mean, this is just an astounding story. Maud, as he was known, his nickname, was a well-known jogger in the community, ran almost every day. And can you then explain — this was a Sunday afternoon, in broad daylight. And then, take us on that journey, as you understand it at this point. Not only are we following Maud jogging in the middle of the road, coming upon this pickup truck with the retired white police officer in the back — you wouldn’t know he was a police officer, of course — and his son holding the shotgun next to it. But the question of the man who is following Arbery, filming this.

BENJAMIN CRUMP: Yes. William Bryan, who we believe is an accomplice to this murder, he should be charged with aiding and abetting the McMichaels in their execution of Ahmaud Arbery.

And it’s just unbelievable, Amy, that they would want to film this. And, you know, it shocks the conscience. You just can’t believe it. But it’s real, in 2020. We’re not talking about 1920. We’re talking about in 2020. They can do this, there could be ocular proof on that video, but yet the law enforcement officials who came out to investigate this matter let them leave and go home and sleep in their beds at night.

That’s why it’s so outrageous to us, people in communities of color, because we know if the shoe was on the other foot and it was Ahmaud and his father Marcus in that pickup truck, and they had a shotgun and a .357 Magnum and they chased Greg McMichael’s son in broad daylight and end up killing him, they know they would have been arrested from day one, and they know they would not have been given a bond. Nobody would have had to justify anything.

So why the two justice systems in America, one for Black America and one for white America? We’re the United States of America. And even though us Black people understand the Constitution wasn’t written for us, as my hero Thurgood Marshall said, we’re going to make the Constitution ours anyway, because we are Americans.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to go to a piece that talks about, “Shortly after the shooting, the prosecutor for the Brunswick Judicial Circuit, Jackie Johnson, recused herself because Gregory McMichael had worked in her office. The case was [then] sent to George Barnhill, the district attorney in Waycross, Ga., who later recused himself from the case after Mr. Arbery’s mother argued that he had a conflict because his son also works for the Brunswick district attorney. But before he relinquished the case, … Barnhill wrote a letter to the Glynn County Police Department. In the letter, which was obtained by The Times, he argued that there was not sufficient probable cause to arrest … Arbery’s pursuers.” This is an astounding story. Explain the conflicts here. Again, McMichael, a retired police officer, an investigator.

BENJAMIN CRUMP: Yes, ma’am, Amy. He was a police officer and an investigator for the District Attorney’s Office and had worked for them for over 30 years. So we are very distrustful of any legal or law enforcement agencies in that southeastern part of Georgia, because we feel they all know the McMichaels, and they are going to be biased in favor of the McMichaels because of those relationships.

And even the current prosecutor, we don’t have trust for him, because he has revealed his perspective. He had that video. He could have issued an arrest warrant based on just the video, like the Georgia Bureau of Investigations finally did when they took over the investigation, because it was probable cause in the video. You didn’t have to do — I mean, it’s probable cause. Black people are arrested on far less in America every day. But they actually have a video, and they still said there was not enough evidence just to arrest them.

And that’s why we want a special prosecutor appointed, and we want to make sure that if these are individuals who currently work at the law enforcement agencies there in and around Brunswick, Georgia, who failed to arrest them either because of incompetence or intentional, they should not have anything at all to do with the prosecution of this case.

AMY GOODMAN: Ben Crump, what forced the release of this video this week? I mean, and it comes at the same time that Georgia has lifted its lockdown, so there was immediate protest. I mean, it’s clear it’s the protesters and the outcry across the country that have led to this — to the arrests of the McMichaels. Talk about what forced this video release. And it also was just released on a local website.

BENJAMIN CRUMP: Yes, ma’am. Apparently, a lawyer or a former lawyer associated with the McMichaels, the murderous father and son duo who executed Ahmaud Arbery, released the video. And apparently he said he released it because he felt that it would somehow exonerate these killers. And it makes no sense to me. It’s asinine how they feel this hunting party, this hunting posse, chasing this unarmed, young African American throughout that community was something that would exonerate them.

Amy, they teach us in first year law school about malice of forethought. That is, you know, what is in the mind of the killer. And we believe when they got in that truck with all that firepower going to confront this young Black man, that they had evil intent, that you can look at their intentions and conclude that they should be held liable for murder, because we know, again, if the shoe was on the other foot and it was two African American men who got in their trucks with this kind of firepower and killed an unarmed, young white man in broad daylight, that they would be charged and convicted with murder, day one.

AMY GOODMAN: So, you have, at the time of this broadcast, in a little bit, the Georgia Department of Investigation is going to hold a news conference. Then a major protest is going to be held. If you can explain what the Georgia Department of Investigation had to say? Now the Georgia governor says there will be justice. And also, you represented Trayvon Martin’s family. Trayvon Martin would have been the same age of Ahmaud if he had lived and not been killed by George Zimmerman. And again, today is Ahmaud’s 26th birthday. So, if you can talk about what this means, that the Georgia Department of Investigation is involved, and your comparisons?

BENJAMIN CRUMP: Certainly. The similarities between Trayvon Martin and Ahmaud Arbery are eerie. Both of them were killed in the month of February — Trayvon on February 26, 2012, and Ahmaud on February 23rd, 2020. And then both of them were accused of burglary, you know, Trayvon in the gated community and then Ahmaud in the Satilla Shores community. And then, both of the killers, who were armed, claimed that they had to kill these young unarmed, Black men because they were in fear of their lives. And then, both of the killers, after they killed these two unarmed, young Black men, Trayvon and Ahmaud, they both got to go home and sleep in their beds at night.

And then, you had the prosecutors in Sanford, Florida, with Trayvon, having alleged conflicts of interest, and then you had the prosecutors in Brunswick, Georgia, have a alleged conflict of interest. And then, you didn’t get an arrest for weeks in Trayvon’s case; you didn’t get an arrest for weeks in Ahmaud’s case. In Trayvon’s case, the state police, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, had to take over the investigation before there was an arrest, and in Ahmaud’s case, the Georgia Bureau of Investigations had to take over the investigation before there was an arrest.

And in both cases, you had objective evidence of a pursuit. In Trayvon, we had audio. We heard the pursuit, and we heard the gunshot. But in Ahmaud’s case, we visually see the pursuit with our own eyes, and we see the gunshots.

And so, it’s so eerily similar. And the fact that they both would be 26 years old today, had they lived, tells us all we need to know, that in America, we must do better. We must do better.

AMY GOODMAN: Ben Crump, what happens next, as we wrap up?

BENJAMIN CRUMP: We ask that there’s a special prosecutor brought in, because we have great distrust in anybody working in that southeast Georgia law enforcement community. And we want to make sure that we have a diverse jury panel, because we don’t want a repeat of cases past where you have no diversity on the jury and they don’t understand the culture or the common life experiences of Ahmaud Arbery.

AMY GOODMAN: We want to thank you so much, Ben Crump, for joining us, civil rights attorney representing the family of Ahmaud Arbery, the author of Open Season: Legalized Genocide of Colored People. He represented the family of Trayvon Martin. And, of course, we’ll continue to follow this story as it unfolds.

When we come back, we look at the deadly disparate impact of the pandemic on African Americans as told through the story of Linda Villarosa, looking at the Zulu club, a Black social organization in New Orleans, during and after Mardi Gras. Stay with us.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: “I’ll Fly Away” by Brass-a-Holics featuring Mecca Notes. The song is traditionally played during New Orleans funerals.

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