BRUNSWICK, Ga. — Shouts of “Justice for Maud” — Ahmaud Arbery’s nickname — rang out from the Glynn County Courthouse steps here May 16. The protest was organized to keep the pressure on authorities to prosecute the killing of the 25-year-old African American nearly three months earlier by two white vigilantes, Gregory McMichael and his son Travis. Many of the 600 in attendance came in a car caravan from Atlanta earlier that morning.
They also demanded the removal of two district attorneys who had been assigned to investigate the killing, Jackie Johnson and George Barnhill, for their refusal to arrest the shooters. Both ultimately recused themselves because they had connections with Gregory McMichael, a former cop and prosecutors’ investigator.
Thousands have protested since a video of the killing was released May 5, leading the Georgia Bureau of Investigation to arrest the two vigilantes two days later. The video shows Arbery out for a jog in nearby Satilla Shores when the McMichaels follow him in their pickup truck and confront him, arms in hand. After Arbery tries to defend himself, the video shows them gun the youth down.
The McMichaels told the cops who first interviewed them after the killing that Arbery had been seen on video entering a home under construction and may have been a burglar.
The video sparked outrage. Support for vigorous prosecution of the McMichaels and calls for ousting all those responsible for the cover-up have come from working people across the country, as well as celebrities, politicians and sports figures.
“We are here because of this brave family which has been leading this fight for justice,” Mawuli Davis, an Atlanta attorney who helped organize the caravan, said as he introduced members of Arbery’s family at the rally.
“It’s been 74 hard days for our family,” said Thea Brooks, one of Arbery’s aunts, thanking rally participants. “When we were told that Ahmaud had been involved in an attempted robbery, we knew they were lying. That’s not Ahmaud!”
“At first we said, ‘Let them do their job.’ Then it was clear we had to ‘help’ them do their job,” she said. “That was followed by weeks of letter writing to the press, interviews, meetings with anyone we could get to listen.
“We wanted to let them know that what happened to Ahmaud was not going to be forgotten.”
The caravan of more than 125 cars that left from the Victory Outreach Church in Atlanta to join the protest was organized by the JustGeorgia coalition, along with statewide NAACP and American Civil Liberties Union chapters, Black Voters Matter, Southern Center for Human Rights and other groups.
“We only have to drive a few hours down here and back to Atlanta,” Paul Hopson, a history teacher, told the Militant at the rally. “This family has been fighting for much longer. This rally will help spread the word and keep up the pressure for justice.”
The same day 30 people joined a “Run With Ahmaud” rally in Evansville, Indiana. Many actions in solidarity with the fight for justice for Arbery have taken the form of jogging events. Some 200 people participated in a similar gathering in Waynesboro.
Vigilantes get organized
New evidence continues to emerge, shedding light on how the vigilante operation unfolded.
A text recently became public that was sent to a Satilla Shores homeowner by Glynn County cop Robert Rash in December after there had been reports of unknown individuals going into an unfinished house. It makes it clear the cops were encouraging residents to work with Gregory McMichael to prepare for vigilante action.
Rash told the homeowner that former cop McMichael should be contacted if someone went into the house again. “Please call him day or night when you get action on your camera,” the cop texted.
According to news accounts some individuals in the neighborhood were organized to “watch the house.”
Videos provided by the attorney of the house’s owner show Arbery entering the site briefly just minutes before he was fatally shot. He took nothing and no property was damaged. Family members and the attorney for the house owner say it’s likely he stopped for a drink of water.
Cops in the county were familiar with Ahmaud Arbery from several run-ins. He had faced charges for weapon possession and shoplifting. Gregory McMichael led the investigation into the shoplifting charge.
When the McMichaels were told someone had been seen in the house again Feb. 23, Gregory McMichael grabbed his .357 Magnum and Travis got his shotgun.
After the killing, prosecutor Barnhill told cops not to arrest or file charges against the McMichaels. When he recused himself in April, he wrote this decision was proper because Georgia has a law permitting citizen’s arrests.
Those at the rally promised public actions will continue.
“We have to stand together when something like this happens,” Chloe Garth-Fielder from the Rome NAACP told the Militant at the Atlanta caravan sendoff. “We had to be here today.”