The Spark

the Voice of
The Communist League of Revolutionary Workers–Internationalist

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.”
— Karl Marx

If Left to Authorities, Ahmaud Arbery’s Killers Would Have Gone Unpunished

Dec 6, 2021

Many people who recognized the killing of Ahmaud Arbery as murder felt some sense of relief and some measure of justice in the convictions of his three killers. Yet it’s important to remember that if it had been left up to the local authorities, Arbery’s killers would have gotten away scot-free.

The local police didn’t arrest Arbery’s killers—Travis McMichael, his father Greg McMichael, and neighbor William “Roddie” Bryan—until 2½ months after his murder. The white local Glynn County prosecutor, Jackie Johnson, not only refused to charge the three men, she directed Glynn County cops not to arrest them. Johnson handed the case off to a second prosecutor in a different county who also refused to prosecute the killers. George Barnhill, the Waycross County district attorney, sent a letter to local police saying the killers were justified under the state’s citizen’s arrest law because their intent was to stop a “criminal suspect.” In other words, Barnhill turned the blame for the killing onto Arbery himself, though there was no evidence he was guilty of any crime!

The local cops blatantly lied when they first informed Arbery’s mother, Wanda Cooper-Jones, of how he died. They said her son had committed a burglary and was confronted and killed by the homeowner. Videos from the house under construction that Arbery was seen walking in clearly show he never took anything. They also show several instances of white people doing exactly the same thing, yet no action was ever taken against them.

It was only after the cellphone video taken by Bryan became public that anyone in authority called for the three killers to be arrested. The video only came to light because the shooter’s father, Greg McMichael, was so certain the three could get away with the killing that he gave the video to the police. Even the lawyer defending the killers believed his clients would be let off, so he intentionally leaked the video to "dispel rumors," as he put it, about the murder.

It was only after Arbery’s mother expressed outrage about her son’s killing, and many people publicly protested the killing, that the Georgia Bureau of Investigation took up the case and a third prosecutor from a distant county finally brought charges. Even then, Travis McMichael was so confident he would be acquitted that he testified during the trial. In his testimony, he was forced to admit that Ahmaud Arbery never threatened him in any way.

So yes, a jury was willing to vote to convict Ahmaud Arbery’s killers of murder. Had no video come to light, and without the efforts of Wanda Cooper-Jones and protests by many others, the local authorities would have swept the murder of a black man, who was simply out for a jog, under the rug. Just as so many other similar lynchings have gone unpunished before.