May 18, 2020
A Georgia prosecutor finally charged two men, Gregory McMichael and his son Travis, for the murder of Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year-old black man. Their arrest and charges came more than two months after his killing.
Two other district attorneys previously refused to charge the men. One of those prosecutors, George Barnhill, said the men who shot Arbery were within their rights under Georgia’s citizen’s arrest law.
The arrests of the McMichaels came only after a video was made public showing the men gunning down Arbery, who was simply jogging along a country road.
The release of the video showing Arbery’s killing, and outspoken statements by Arbery’s mother and attorney sparked protests and support around the country and the rest of the world. On May 8, which would have been Arbery’s 26th birthday, many people participated in 2.23 mile runs to commemorate his death on February 23.
Not surprisingly, Georgia’s citizen’s arrest laws date back to 1863 when the KKK was beginning to form to round up escaped slaves during the Civil War.
Barnhill’s use of the state’s citizen arrest law to justify not charging the McMichaels is just the latest example of legal officials making excuses for lynchings of black people. Throughout the period of Jim Crow segregation in the South, states passed laws making vagrancy and loitering criminal acts. Police used these laws selectively to arrest black men and they were even used to justify lynchings,
More recently, “stand your ground” and “castle doctrine” laws have been used to justify killings of black men, as in the case of the murder of Trayvon Martin.
This is just the latest in a long list of killings of black people caught on video—Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Walter Scott, Tamir Rice, and Philando Castile, to name a few. Most have gone unpunished. How many more weren’t caught on video and what would have happened if Arbery’s murder had not been videotaped?
People are right to protest blatantly racist killings like this. Trump’s presidency, the pandemic, and the capitalist economic crisis have all emboldened the far-right. It will take a continued fight by the black population and the working class to push them back.