Ga. protests lead to arrests of vigilantes in Arbery killing

By Sam Manuel
June 8, 2020

ATLANTA — Following weeks of protests demanding justice for the killing of a Black youth in Brunswick, Georgia, by a gang of white vigilantes, state cops have arrested a third suspect. The protests have demanded the arrest and prosecution of the vigilantes and the ouster of all those involved in a two-month-long attempt to cover up the killing.

Ahmaud Arbery was gunned down Feb. 23 while jogging in a Brunswick neighborhood by Travis McMichael and his father Gregory. The latter is a retired cop and former investigator in the local prosecutor’s office.

The Georgia Bureau of Investigation announced the arrest May 21 of William Bryan Jr. on charges of felony murder and criminal attempt to commit false imprisonment. The GBI said Bryan was a participant in the attack, using his vehicle several times in attempts to stop Arbery.

The McMichaels were arrested on murder charges May 7, two days after protests erupted in Brunswick and other cities following the release on the internet of a cellphone video showing them chasing and shooting Arbery. The video had been made by Bryan.

Bryan’s attorney said his client played no role in the shooting and is only a witness. But Gregory McMichael told cops that “Roddie,” a nickname Bryan uses, had attempted to “block” Arbery’s escape.

The McMichaels have said they chased Arbery because they suspected he had committed burglaries in the neighborhood. But there are no police records of any burglaries. That accusation centers on security tapes that show several people entering a home construction site over several months.

Larry English, the owner of the house under construction, told the Wall Street Journal that Arbery is among those shown on the security tapes, but that nothing was ever taken and no damage was done to the property. He criticized the McMichaels for their “vigilante response” in killing the 25-year-old youth.

Over several months the McMichaels and local cops were involved in organizing area residents in a surveillance operation of the house, with neighbors, sometimes armed, going on the property to “check things out.”

An attorney for English also confirmed that a Glynn County cop had texted her client in December to say that Gregory McMichael was willing to help “deal” with any trespassers. He also said it was likely Arbery interrupted his jog to get a drink of water at the site.

The Georgia Bureau of Investigation director told the press that the agency expected to wrap up its investigation in a relatively short time, expressing confidence that all those who needed to be charged in connection with the shooting have been charged.

But thousands have taken to the streets to demand that all those involved in trying to cover up the killing be fired or charged. The actions have included church and Black rights organizations and local unions. Leaders of International Longshoremen’s Association Local 1423, which organizes dockworkers at Brunswick’s large port, have joined the protests. The slain youth’s mother and attorneys for the family say there are others who need to be arrested.

“The Georgia NAACP remains focused on its advocacy efforts to ensure that Jackie Johnson and George Barnhill [two prosecutors] are both held responsible,” the group told the press May 18.

For two months after the fatal shooting local cops and prosecutors did everything possible to avoid arresting the McMichaels. First one and then another prosecutor removed themselves from the case, saying Gregory McMichael had been working in their offices. One of them, George Barnhill, did so after he had told cops not to arrest the McMichaels, claiming they had acted legally in shooting Arbery under Georgia’s “citizen’s arrest” and armed self-defense laws.

Last year a grand jury investigation found a “culture of cover-up and abuse of power” in the Glynn County police department. The police chief and three other current and former cops were indicted.