By Adrianna Tan
New York City, New York
On February 23rd, 2020, Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year-old Black man, was shot while jogging in a predominantly White Georgia neighborhood. All three of his murderers are currently facing trial on accounts of malice murder, felony murder, and false imprisonment.
Two of his killers are father and son, Gregory and Travis McMichael. Their neighbor, William Bryan Jr. also participated in this murder. They followed, chased, and shot Arbery on his jog.
The reason the case has become extremely convoluted is because of the constitutional right that a defendant has to a jury of their peers. The almost exclusively White jury for this trial has received extreme criticism by the public. Many believe that the composition of the jury does not reflect the makeup of the racial profile of the community. The defense team for the three men being put on trial used eleven of its strikes to remove all potential Black jurors except for one, a calculated attempt to remove Black jurors.
On the sixth day of the trial William Bryan, one of the three men involved in this modern version of lynching, claims that he believed that Arbery was the culprit of some items that had previously gone missing. He claims that his idea of Arbery being guilty of stealing was perpetuated by Arbery “running away” from him, reflecting his preconcieved racial profiling that the criminal responsible for the thefts would most likely be a Black man.
The defense team for the three men who murdered Arbery claimed that they were attempting a citizen’s arrest as they believed Arbery to be guilty of the recent burglaries in the area. A citizen’s arrest can be performed by any citizen, however, it does not give members of the public the right to murder their fellow civilians. In this “citizen’s arrest,” was there any attempt on their part to apprehend Arbery before resorting to deadly force? A citizen’s arrest is simply a means to deliver the suspected guilty party to authorities, not to serve as judge, jury, and executioner.
This fact leads to the two possibilities behind the reasoning of why the three men murdered Arbery. The first is that they murdered Arbery simply because he was Black. The second is that because they believed him to be a criminal and rushed to judgment, due to racial profiling, they decided to take “justice” into their own hands through reckless actions. This statement by Bryan supposedly confirms the latter; however, was the “justice” that they exacted proportional to the crime, even if Arbery was guilty of stealing, which he was not? Or were their actions a reflection of their racism?
While Gregory McMichael, Travis McMichael, and William Bryan Jr. are responsible for the death of Ahmaud Arbery, the convictions, or lack thereof, in this trial may result in the public questioning whether there was bias in this almost all-White jury as well as demonstrating how the legal technicalities of a citizen's arrest can be abused to afford the three men a defense to this killing.
On November 24, all three men charged with Arbery’s murder were convicted. The jury took 11 hours to deliberate and found the men guilty of murder as well as other charges.
Prosecutors are seeking life sentences without parole for the men, though the lawyer for Travis McMichael has said that they will appeal the decision.
In response to the verdict, Wanda Cooper-Jones, Ahmaud’s mother said, "I never thought this day would come, but God is good, and I just want to tell everybody thank you, thank you for those who marched, those who prayed."