By Ken Gulley
UPDATE: Prior to the completion of this blog, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) moved to have the McMichael’s arrested and charged: see link: https://abcn.ws/2Aaczof
If you’re like me, It has been difficult to locate any news articles that have not been dripping with a highly opinionated narrative of this event.
That is perhaps understandable. What happened was not only horrific but there seemed to be no true effort at seeking justice. Until now…
Below, I’ll attempt to present to you the raw facts of the violent incident and then save the opinion portion for the end. Sources and links are presented at the bottom.
The encounter takes place between a 25 year old man named Ahmaud Arbery and two other adults, Gregory and Travis McMichael.
Ahmaud, a black man, is a former football player and was actively seeking to land an electricians job in his home county of Glynn, Georgia.
Gregory, 64, is a former investigator for the district attorney in Brunswick, Georgia (Glynn County) and a former police officer. Travis, Gregory’s son, is 34 years of age.
The incident took place in a small riverside community of Satilla Shores, in Brunswick, Georgia. Brunswick is 60% black and 33% white. The town is sparsely populated in parts and hugs a large number of waterways that branch out to the Atlantic Ocean. The area is filled with wetlands and wooded areas.
WHAT & WHEN & HOW
On Sunday, February 23rd, a call came into 911 Dispatch stating that, “a black male running down the street” might be responsible for a “rash of burglaries” in the neighborhood.
The caller advised dispatch that there was a man, “in a house right now. It’s a house under construction.” When 911 Dispatch attempted to get a clarification for what crime was occurring (outside of a possible trespass). No answer was given but rather the caller (name censored) stated, “He has been caught on camera a bunch before at night. It’s kind of an ongoing thing here.”
Instead of waiting for police, Travis and Gregory notified their neighbor and loaded up onto a pickup truck to confront the man they suspect of the recent burglaries. That man was Ahmoud Arbery.
During the encounter and video shot by the neighbor trailing the Arbery; Arbery can be seen running at a jogging pace wearing khaki shorts and a white shirt. Arbery zig-zags to avoid the truck which cut of his route of travel.
After going out of sight in front of the vehicle, a shot rings out as Travis attempts to “detain” Arbery. Arbery engaged Travis and attempt to disarm him while Gregory dismounted the pickup truck. As the struggle continued, two more shots ring out. Blood can be seen on Arbery’s white shirt as he stumbled away from the truck and fell to the ground where he died soon after.
The MicMichael’s maintain they were attempting to detain a suspected burglar involved in a rash of burglaries in their neighborhood.
According to Georgia State Law, a citizen arrest is lawful if it meets certain criteria:
“A private person may arrest an offender if the offense is committed in his presence or within his immediate knowledge. If the offense is a felony and the offender is escaping or attempting to escape, a private person may arrest him upon reasonable and probable grounds of suspicion.”
Furthermore, the McMichaels declare that during the attempted detention, Arbery attacked Travis. The attack, the McMichaels allege, alters the detention and turned the incident into one of self-defense. Georgia law, like most state laws, allow for justifiable use of firearms in instances where the victim of an attack believes their life is in danger.
Only 1 official police report of a burglary is documented in the area 7 weeks prior to this incident. Therefore the notion of a “rash of burglaries” is brought into question. Though it is not uncommon for many more instances to go unreported.
According to the anonymous neighbor (who’s house was “trespassed”) a man was seen on video who looked like Arbery. The man was seen walking onto the dock of the home that went out to the Little Satilla River. The anonymous neighbor could only confirm a possible “trespassing” violation at this time.
According to media sources and official reports, a police investigation was conducted listing the McMichaels as “suspects” of a homicide. Homicides can be justified or not. With Travis and Gregory as cooperative parties in the investigation, the report was handed to the District Attorney’s office for evaluation on possible criminal charges.
Given Gregory’s prior profession as an investigator for the District Attorney’s office, two DA’s had recused themselves from the investigation for conflicts of interest and any depiction of impropriety or bias toward the McMichaels.
The third prosecutor, Tom Durden, sent the case over to a Grand Jury rather than pressing for charges from his own office. The move itself has led to part of the outrage.
The video that leaked led to national outcry and speculations of racism (among other things). The limited and short in scope. Much like police body worn cameras, it doesn’t tell the entirety of the story but it does offer an objective viewpoing and a voice for the decedant (where none would usually exists). Outside of loud gun shots, nothing said could be heard between Arbery and the McMichaels.
LEAK & OUTCRY
The video itself has been in evidence since the incident. The investigating department and District Attorney’s office had refused to hand over the video to Arbery’s family attorney until it was leaked online. That in itself is not unusual but will no doubt adds to suspicion.
The public both in Georgia and throughout the nation have since become inflamed by the incident and its subsequent delays – undoubtedly hampered by the recusals and the corona virus measures taken in the state.
Politicians have also jumped into the fray. Some for political points no doubt and others to answer the call of the public’s outcry.
On May 5th, Governor Brian Kemp (R) offered the state’s law enforcement personnel (GBI) resources and oversight into the investigation taking place at the county level.
Joe Biden (D) suggested the video clearly showed a man “killed in cold blood.” Former Congressman & Prosecutor (R) Trey Gowdy questions why the investigation “took a video [becoming public]” before actions were carried out – acknowledging that the minority communities must question if justice would ever be pushed had there been no video in this case or others.
MY TAKE (Opinion)
As a law enforcement officer, I have to practice objectivity. On most calls for service, I am not present to see the allegations presented by a civilian regarding an assault or similar allegation against another person. Objectivity comes naturally to me by practice.
I want you, the reader, to practice your best to be objective with me. Put aside the forced “two white men kill an unarmed black man” racism narrative that is being pushed by the media and lets consider the facts at hand. I will address those issues later.
(1) Legalities of the Incident
The Legalities of the incident are first and foremost important factors to this tragedy is to be judged. The two overarching legal issues here are that of a citizens arrest (a) and self defense (b).
(a) Given that the actions by the McMichaels – who determined to locate and detain Arbery as a suspect in a series of burglaries – to try and affect an arrest. The two men essentially instigate the entirety of the incident. Therefore must determine first if the citizen arrest itself was justifiable.
There are two key issues with the McMichael’s claims of a citizen’s arrest. First, at best, the incident at hand was tantamount to a trespassing incident. No burglary took place on this date and time and therefore the “citizen arrest” in this instance is unlawful (see law above) as the crime committed was no longer taking place.
Now, as a police officer, there are times where I must detained people on the basis of suspicion of a crime. This is a lawful act in my duties. And sometimes we are wrong. Police officers can detain and arrest in felonies, misdemeanors, and infractions (only if present and witnessed by the officer).
The statue above does not allow citizens to affect an arrest for anyone for a crime below a misdemeanor.
Now lets suggest the McMichael’s thought a burglary had just taken place. Is their platform solid? Even in law enforcement, officers must be careful about the action of detaining or arresting someone based on the crime at hand. We call it, “having a solid platform.” It isn’t worth the fight (literally) at the present moment or later in court (via civil lawsuits) to justify why you had to subdue the jaywalker with flurry of baton strikes. It’s not worth the battle. Now had the same use of force taken place against someone wanted for murder, then the battle is worthwhile.
The call to 911 made by someone among the McMichael’s party does nothing to defend the mindset that they believed a burglary had just taken place. At best it suggest suspicion of prior incidents.
This therefore violates another key portion of the legal statue that states the incident must be committed “in his presence or immediate knowledge of.” A “stale” felony (one that occurred at a different time) does not warrant a civilian to act to arrest anyone.
Furthermore, it is difficult to suggest that Arbery was attempting to flee. Arbery can be seen jogging steadily toward the McMichael’s truck (which was parked ahead of him waiting) – not running away from him. Had Arbery desired to get away, he could easily flee toward the wooded side yards of the streets he ran on – not jog through the street in plain view.
Georgia is a “stand your ground” State. In such states, individuals who are on the receiving end of unlawful violence need not back down before defending themselves with reasonable force. Such a removal of a need to stand down is similar to the right afforded to law enforcement (CPC 835) but does not extend them the duty to place themselves in such situations with authority. Gregory being a former law enforcement official lost similar authority and rights when he retired.
Other states that do not have “stand your ground” laws limit the scope of self defense to homes or specified areas. While those states don’t explicitly suggest the right to self-defense outside certain areas, it is understood to be both reasonable and implied that one may defense themselves to a violent attack.
Deadly force is also applicable if the person reasonably believes that the attacker poses a threat of great bodily injury or death. The law does note that (a) you cannot be the aggressor and (b) you cannot be involved in the crime.
Many have attacked “stand your ground” laws especially in the wake of Trayvon Martin’s death at the hand of George Zimmerman. But the legalities behind the law are not an issue – what is an issue is the perversion of the law in the minds of vigilantes like Zimmerman and in this case the McMichael’s.
In fact the “stand your ground law” gave Arbery the right to fight with all his might and try and disarm Travis.
The McMichael’s did not have a legal basis to detain or arrest Arbery and therefore were indeed the aggressors in this situation. Also consider the video. While obscured and very short in length, the initial shot happens almost immediately upon contact between Arbery and Travis. I would venture to judge that there was hardly any time to suggest that Arbery posed any grave danger to Travis, especially given that Travis was armed and Arbery was not. This, therefore, makes Travis the aggressor.
At minimum, the case should be forward by the DA as voluntary manslaughter – if not murder. In my opinion, especially with the lack of standing on either legal issue above, a charge for murder is most accurate.
As with most of these incidents, race is highlighted and politics come into play some times more than they should.
Two white men killing an unarmed black jogger made it very easy to do without much trying. Then add the fact that the incident took place in the south, in a state that incorporated the confederate battle flag into their state flag in 1956 before purging it in 2001.
To completely ignore the racial implications present is to be intentionally ignorant (a soft way of calling someone stupid). Trey Gowdy acknowledges that eloquently on Fox News (see link).
The incident has the hallmarks of a modern day lynching without the overt racism.
We have no idea if the McMichael’s are racists or not. In the court of public opinion, they have received that label and that appears to be all that matters. It is my hope that the facts above show you that both Travis and Gregory were clearly in the wrong regardless of race or racism.
Outside of the implied historical context of the South and the similarities of old lynchings gangs that would take place – I have no evidence to prove that either men were racist. Afterall, Gregory served as an investigator for the DA in Brunswick and likely helped many in the majority black community find justice. That also does not prove him not to be as racist either subconsciously or overtly. Many will argue the subconscious take over in such matters. Perhaps, but thats not something we can neither measure nor prove.
If there is anything to be happy about in this tragedy, it appears that both the Left and Right have found grave fault and major issues with the actions taken by these two men and the subsequent lack of justice from the DA’s office. We both agree something must be done, and answers must be given.
Unfortunately, though, that doesn’t excuse many on the right end of the spectrum from hiding behind the “wait to all the facts come out” excuse to avoid the issues and evils behind bias and/or racial injustices. Thats a damn shame. After all, we conservatives hold government in suspicion and tout the corrections of Republicans in Congress to overthrow the evils of the Jim Crow Democratic South. We therefore should have no issue understanding the lingering effects of what governments helped institutionalized there.
That said its also important to understand how and when race should play a factor. All too often the Left has willingly used race in situations where it is unwarranted – making it difficult and exhausting to those on the Right to swallow situations where it is warranted. When they boy cries wolf, he is no longer taken seriously.
I have already seen some on the Left, friends included, ready to condemn all of America and all of the Caucasian community for the stupid actions of these two men. One friend suggested they weren’t willing to say the South has changed since the civil rights area – spitting in the face of all of the heroes who fought so hard to change things in those communities.
America is one of the least racist multi-ethnic nations on earth. People that condemn America for these crimes as a whole ignore the fact that more African’s have moved to the US voluntarily for freedom and prosperity than ever came on slave ships.
Another friend of mine put Arbery’s name alongside other famous killings of black men like Alton Sterling – saying “we can’t go jogging” and “we can’t sale CDs.” This is highly ignorant as it ignores the fact that such instances are rare (and therefore gain national attention) and completely different.
Sterling wasn’t just selling counterfeit CDs, he was a documented gang member who just threatened a woman with a gun despite being on probation (restricting him from firearms) before fighting the police and dying while trying to pull a gun on the cops. His death is nothing like that of a Arbery and does little to heal the issue of race – rather suggesting instead that the black community is willing to stand beside the wrong and treat them as if they were in the right.
Lebron James stated “We are literally hunted everyday/everytime.” While undoubtedbly hyperbolic, the statement is nowhere near the truth and only moves to assist the paranoia and reactions black men have to certain situations involving the police (since this issues is being lumped in) – turning simple investigatory situations into confrontations. But i understand his frustration and anger. Failing to understand that sentiment and pain is exacerbated by those who dismiss it outright.
Lastly, while it is the job of the defense attorney to justify their client’s actions – in this case the McMichael’s – it doesn’t mean the public is accountable to the actions undertaken. Yes, Arbery had a short criminal record (shoplifting as an 19 year old) and bringing a gun to a HS basketball game as a 13 year old but neither acts were factors in McMichael’s justifications nor are they relevant to the perceived threats and crime that supposedly took place on that day.
Even if Arbery had correctly been identified as the burglar from previous incidents – the McMichael’s ability to detain Arbery and their defense justification would still be indefensible as they agitated the situation. They made the move as civilians to threaten a fellow civilian far from the scene of a crime they did not witness.
Not even in criminal trials are Law Enforcement Officers able to bring up the active parole or probation status’ of certain individuals duding a trial. So, far be it from the public to utilize these past indiscretions to excuse or justify the McMichael’s actions against Arbery.
This is a tragedy that should have never happened. Two men went above and beyond the law, violating the law, and arrest a man with force not authorize to them in any way. The the result was horrific.
Imagine yourself, presumably minding your own own business only to be accosted at gun point by strange men who are obviously not uniformed law enforcement officers. How would you react?
This thought is something that leaps off the page in my mind. As a police officer, during a report of a lawful detention and arrest, I have to explain what I was wearing and how it signified I was an officer with the authority to enforce the law. Simply being one is not enough for the court, it has to be written on me and a badge or a symbol must be showing. Now imagine trying to defend the act of an arrest by a citizen without the very uniform presence let alone probable cause.
A man’s life was taken, a son was lost. While some may argue that the outcome was not what either McMichael had in mind, I can tell you that I’ve spoke with thieves who never intended to injure or kill their victims as well. It happened and they should be brought to justice for murder.
• NYT https://www.nytimes.com/2020/05/06/opinion/ahmaud-arbery-killing.html (Left lean)
• FOX https://www.foxnews.com/politics/georgia-ahmaud-arbery-outcry (Right bias)
• WP https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/the-killing-of-ahmaud-arbery-renews-the-question-of-whether-black-lives-matter/2020/05/07/8832e3c4-8fd5-11ea-a9c0-73b93422d691_story.html?outputType=amp (Leftist bias)
• BBC https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-52557609 (Liberal lean)
• Time https://time.com/5832731/ahmaud-arbery-shooting-georgia-murder/?amp=true (Liberal bias)
• FOX https://www.foxnews.com/media/trey-gowdy-ahmaud-arbery-case-grand-jury (Right bias)
• NR https://www.nationalreview.com/corner/ahmaud-arbery-shooting-georgia/amp/ (Conservative bias)
• PB https://theproofblog.com/2016/07/28/34/ (Conservative bias)