A prosecutor in Georgia said on Tuesday he would ask a grand jury to decide if charges should be filed against a white former law enforcement officer and his son in the fatal shooting of an unarmed young black man as he ran through a small town.
The shooting of 25-year-old Ahmaud Arbery outside Brunswick, Georgia, in February was captured on videotape and posted on social media on Tuesday, stirring outrage over the reluctance of prosecutors to file charges against Gregory McMichael and his son, Travis.
The video footage, which was taken by an unidentified witness in another car, shows Arbery jogging down a narrow two-lane road and around a white pickup truck stopped in the right lane, its driver’s door open.
As Arbery crosses back in front of the truck a gunshot is fired. Arbery is then seen struggling with a man holding a long gun as a second man stands in the bed of the truck brandishing a revolver. Two more shots are heard before Arbery stumbles and falls face-down onto the asphalt.
The graphic footage has prompted an outcry and demands for justice; the activist Shaun King posted the video on Twitter, describing it as “one of the worst things I’ve seen in my entire life”.
Tom Durden, the acting district attorney for a neighboring district, said in a letter posted on Facebook that he believed “the case should be presented to the grand jury of Glynn county for consideration of criminal charges against those involved in the death of Mr Arbery”.
Durden, who was assigned to investigate the fatal shooting after prosecutors in Brunswick and a neighboring district recused themselves due to potential conflicts of interest, said he would present the case to the next available grand jury in Glynn county. That grand jury might not meet until mid-June or later because courts were under restrictions imposed by the coronavirus pandemic, he said.
According to a police report obtained by the New York Times, Gregory McMichael, a former police officer and district attorney’s investigator, told investigators the incident began when he spotted Arbery from his front yard “hauling ass” down the street.
McMichael told police that, because he suspected Arbery in a string of recent neighborhood break-ins, he summoned his son and the two men gave chase in the truck, Gregory McMichael carrying a .357 Magnum revolver and Travis armed with a shotgun.
Gregory McMichael said Arbery began to “violently attack” his son and fought over the shotgun, prompting Travis to open fire. It is not clear from the police report or the videotape if Gregory McMichael also fired on Arbery.
According to a letter obtained by the Times, the prosecutor in Brunswick argued there was not probable cause to arrest the McMichaels because they were legally carrying firearms, had a right to pursue a burglary suspect and use deadly force to protect themselves.
In a statement to the New York Times, a lawyer for Arbery’s family said the video clearly showed a criminal act. “This is murder,” said S Lee Merritt. “The series of events captured in this video confirm what all the evidence indicated prior to its release.”
Andrea Young, the executive director of the ACLU of Georgia, compared the killing to that of Trayvon Martin, the unarmed black teenager who was shot in 2012 by a neighborhood watch leader.
“The vigilante behavior that we saw in Brunswick is unacceptable in a civilized society. We call on the officials in Brunswick to enforce the rule of law so that it can be safe for citizens to walk the streets,” said Young. “Ahmaud was killed three days before the anniversary of the 2012 killing of Trayvon Martin. Both incidents are a reminder that white supremacy has been a foundation for our country and leads repeatedly to the targeting and harming people of color, particularly African Americans.”