Viral video of Brunswick’s black jogger shooting spurs investigation, outrage

Ahmaud Arbery was shot to death as he was running down this road through the Satilla Shores neighborhood in February. The Georgia Bureau of Investigation is now taking on the case after local law enforcement stalled an inquiry. Wes Wolfe/Georgia Recorder

Sadness and anger rattled across Georgia and the country Wednesday following the viral spread of a video showing the shooting death of 25-year-old Ahmaud Arbery, an unarmed black man killed in a suburban Glynn County neighborhood.

The Brunswick community’s calls for justice grew louder this week after a local radio station released a horrifying video that shows the Feb. 23 shooting as Arbery, running down a street in suburban Satilla Shores, is confronted by two white men carrying guns in a pickup truck.

A special prosecutor said he plans to present the case to a grand jury. National and state elected officials and civil rights organizations are incensed about the investigation so far in light of the suddenly public video. Local prosecutors reviewed the video of the shootings earlier and declined to make arrests.

Meanwhile, the third local district attorney to review the case requested assistance from the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. 

The GBI assigned three agents to the investigation this week and is providing “every resource and all the experience this agency has in resolving this matter,” agency Director Vic Reynolds said Wednesday.

“Our goal in every investigation is to seek the truth, and that’s exactly what we intend on doing in this matter,” he said. “I realize that emotions are running high in this community, and they’re running high throughout the state. And the last thing anyone wants to do is extend us any patience, but also realize that this investigation must be done correctly.”

Arbery’s family says he was out for a routine jog when retired Glynn County District Attorney’s Office investigator Gregory McMichael, 64, and his son Travis McMichael, 34, chased him down in a pickup truck. 

The GBI is also assisting the Glynn County Police Department with investigating the public release of a cell phone video of the shooting. Police documents reveal a friend of the McMichaels filmed the video, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.

The video shows Arbery jogging when he comes upon a white pickup truck stopped in the middle of the road. That’s when a shotgun-wielding Travis McMichael confronts Arbery and the sounds of gunshots are heard as they wrestle over the weapon while McMichael’s father, Gregory, stands in the pickup truck’s bed.

The McMichaels told authorities Arbery fit the description of a burglary suspect and that they intended to force him to stop and hold him until law enforcement arrived. 

After the Glynn County district attorney recused himself from the case because the older McMichael worked there as an investigator, Waycross Judicial Circuit District Attorney George E.Barnhill was assigned to the case. He wrote to Glynn police investigators that the shooting was legally self-defense and that the McMichaels had the right to try to make a citizens’ arrest under Georgia law.

The Georgia NAACP and the Southern Poverty Law Center are among the many groups joining the national outcry to sharply rebuke those claims.

This week’s revelations underscore why the SPLC is requesting the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate the handling of the case, said a spokesman for the Alabama-based nonprofit.  

The hesitant law and order response from Glynn county police and prosecutors is evoking the kind of painful national conversation that followed the killing of Trayvon Martin in Miami Gardens in 2012, as well as other high-profile cases involving shooting deaths of unarmed black people.

“Ahmaud was killed three days before the anniversary of the 2012 killing of Trayvon Martin,” said Andrea Young, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia. “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.”

The video appears to show Arbery as he’s chased down, struggles over a gun and then shot unprovoked by McMichael. Dismay and calls for justice are rising from Atlanta’s Capitol to Washington D.C. Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr expressed deep concern about Arbery’s killing and Gov. Brian Kemp pledged a full state investigation.

State Rep. Jasmine Clark, a Gwinnett County Democrat, said Wednesday that the video shook her to the core and described Arbery’s death is a modern-day lynching.

“If this injustice can happen in Brunswick, GA, it can happen anywhere, and for that, we must not sit on our hands,” Clark said in a tweet.

Republican U.S. Senator Kelly Loeffler called for “swift action and immediate answers in the wake of this tragedy.”

“With the Georgia Bureau of Investigation now committed to assisting local law enforcement, I anticipate a thorough and rigorous investigation will be conducted, and that it will deliver much-needed clarity and justice in this case,” she said in a statement.

And Democratic presidential hopeful Joe Biden said in a tweet that the video shows Arbery being killed in “cold blood.”

University of Georgia’s Political Science professor Charles Bullock said the video created collective visceral reaction over the ways justice is meted out by powerful local elected officials.

“You hope that officials who are in positions to take actions to prevent this kind of behavior wouldn’t hesitate about condemning it,” he said.

Stanley Dunlap
Stanley Dunlap has covered government and politics for news outlets in Georgia and Tennessee for the past decade. At The (Macon) Telegraph he told readers about Macon-Bibb County’s challenges implementing its recent consolidation, with a focus on ways the state Legislature determines the fate of local communities. He used open records requests to break a story of a $400 million pension sweetheart deal a county manager steered to a friendly consultant. The Georgia Associated Press Managing Editors named Stanley a finalist for best deadline reporting for his story on the death of Gregg Allman and best beat reporting for explanatory articles on the 2018 Macon-Bibb County budget deliberations. The Tennessee Press Association honored him for his reporting on the disappearance of Holly Bobo, which became a sensational murder case that generated national headlines.