After the murder of 25-year-old Ahmaud Arbery, the United States Justice Department has indicted three white men on federal hate crime charges. Travis McMichael, Gregory McMichael, and William Bryan have been charged with interference with civil rights, attempted kidnapping, and using, carrying, and brandishing a firearm during a crime of violence (via AP News).
“It’s one step closer to justice,” Wanda Cooper-Jones, Arbery’s mother, shared with CNN. “They did the investigation properly and they came out with those indictments. So, my family and I were pleased.”
As Ahmaud Arbery was jogging through their neighborhood in February of 2020, father and son Travis and Gregory McMichael took notice, grabbed their shotgun, and went after him. Bryan, their neighbor, joined in and is believed to have gotten into a pickup to blocked Arbery’s path. Yelling and threatening Arbery with their firearms through public streets, they eventually corralled him to stop him with their truck. While stopped from his run, Travis McMichaels fired three close-range shots into Arbery causing his death.
Months after the killing of Ahmaud Arbery, cellphone footage taken by Bryan during the chase was leaked online and a massive social outcry erupted. Following, the case was immediately taken over by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, all three men involved were arrested, and Georgia lawmakers quickly became the 47th state to pass a hate crime law [which permits additional penalty for certain crimes found to be motivated by a victim’s race, color, religion, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, gender, or mental/physical disability, (per AP News)]. Unfortunately, the men will not stand a state trial facing hate crime charges due to the fact the state law was created after the crime was committed.
Arbery’s mother’s attorney, S. Lee Merritt, stated in her tweet that the federal hate crime charges would “serve as a fail-safe to the state prosecution.”
The legal defense for the father and son has released their defense to be that the McMichael’s chased after Arbery believing him to be a burglar they had seen on security cameras in a house under construction. Further, the shots fired came as a response to Travis McMichaels fearing for his own life while he and Arbery struggled over the shotgun.
However, federal charges from the Justice Department assert that the men “used force and threats of force to intimidate and interfere with Arbery’s right to use a public street because of his race.”
The case is a top priority according to Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr. Additionally, on the Federal level, Arbery’s case is the most significant civil rights prosecution during the Biden administration(AP News)
“This is an important milestone in America’s uphill march toward racial justice, and we applaud the Justice Department for treating this heinous act for what it is — a purely evil, racially motivated hate crime,” stated Ben Crump, the Arbery’s attorney.