The Georgia v. McMichael trial began this week in the Superior Court of Glynn County, Georgia.
Travis McMichael, Gregory McMichael, and William Bryan are on trial for the murder of Ahmaud Arbery in February 2020.
On February 23, 2020, Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year-old Black man, went for a jog in broad daylight in Brunswick, Georgia. Gregory McMichael, a 67-year-old retired police officer and resident of the Santilla Shores neighborhood, was standing in front of his house when Arbery jogged by. McMichael and his son, Travis McMichael, immediately grabbed a handgun and a shotgun, got in their truck, and hunted Arbery down. Neighbor William Bryan also joined the pursuit of Arbery. The three of them eventually cornered Arbery on the street and opened fire on him. Unarmed and defenseless, Arbery died from three shotgun wounds. After killing Arbery, the McMichaels and Bryan attempted to justify their public lynching to police by alleging they suspected Arbery of burglarizing houses in the neighborhood. The killing was caught on video.
Despite Gregory McMichael self-reporting to police, no one was arrested until over two months after Arbery’s death. George Barnhill, the second Georgia DA to recuse himself from the investigation because of his connection to the McMichaels, wrote a letter to the Glynn County Police Department arguing there was no probable cause to arrest McMichael, citing a Georgia state vigilante law.
The first video of Arbery’s murder surfaced in May 2020, sparking public outcry and pressuring Glynn County to file charges against the assailants. An indictment was finally filed on June 24, 2020. The three defendants were charged with malice murder, felony murder, aggravated assault, false imprisonment, and criminal attempt to commit a felony. A federal grand jury also indicted the three defendants in April 2021 for federal hate crimes and attempted kidnapping. That trial is set to begin in February 2022. Before Arbery’s murder, Georgia was one of only four remaining states without hate crime laws. The public protest associated with his death pushed Georgia lawmakers to finally pass hate crime legislation that went into effect July 2021.
Jury selection in Georgia v. McMichael is still ongoing on the fourth day of trial. The court summoned over 1,000 jurors from the overwhelmingly white Glynn County. So far the subject of race has dominated voir dire, with defense counsel asking questions, such as, “Do you think someone who opposes ‘[B]lack lives matter’ is necessarily racist?” The United States has a long history of racism in jury selections. Although Batson v. Kentucky (1986) prohibited prosecutors from intentionally using peremptory challenges to strike Black jurors, in reality, racial discrimination continues to taint jury selections.
Overt racism killed Ahmaud Arbery. Though his murderers are finally on trial, the circumstances surrounding the prosecution of Arbery’s killers not only demonstrate a failing of our legal system to apply its version of justice equally to people of color, it exemplifies this system’s protection of white supremacy. Ahmaud Arbery should still be alive—justice is not simply a guilty verdict. Justice is a society that refuses to enable racially motivated public executions.