Two white men – a father and son – have been arrested and charged with murder in the US state of Georgia over the killing of Ahmaud Arbery, a Black man who was shot dead while he was out for a run in February.
The charges came days after a mobile phone video that captured the 25-year-old’s killing just outside the port city of Brunswick, went viral, triggering a nationwide outcry.
Those close to Arbery celebrated the news, but also expressed frustration at the long wait.
“This should have occurred the day it happened,” said Akeem Baker, one of Arbery’s close friends in Brunswick. “There’s no way without the video this would have occurred. I’m just glad the light’s shining very bright on this situation.”
Gregory McMichael, 64, a former law enforcement officer and his 34-year-old son Travis were arrested on Thursday by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.
McMichael previously told police that he and his son chased after Arbery because they suspected him of being a burglar. Arbery’s mother, Wanda Cooper Jones, has said she believes her son, a former football player, was simply out jogging on a Sunday afternoon when he was followed and killed.
Benjamin Crump, a lawyer for the slain man’s father, Marcus Arbery, said it was “outrageous” that it took so long for arrests to be made.
“This is the first step to justice,” Crump said in a statement. “This murderous father and son duo took the law into their own hands. It’s a travesty of justice that they enjoyed their freedom for 74 days after taking the life of a young Black man who was simply jogging.”
The Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) announced the arrests the day after it began its own investigation at the request of an outside prosecutor. The agency said in a news release that the two men had been jailed on charges of murder and aggravated assault.
A cross with flowers and a letter ‘A’ sits at the entrance to the Satilla Shores neighbourhood where Ahmaud Arbery was shot and killed while he was out for a run in February. Two men were charged with murder on Thursday [Sean Rayford/Getty Images via AFP]
The GBI news release said the McMichaels “confronted Arbery with two firearms. During the encounter, Travis McMichael shot and killed Arbery.” No other details were immediately released.
It was not immediately known if either of the McMichaels had a lawyer who could comment on the charges.
‘Lynched before our eyes’
Gregory McMichael served as an investigator for Glynn County District lawyer Jackie Johnson before he retired last year. The connection prompted Johnson to recuse herself from the case.
At a news conference before the arrests were announced on Thursday, Republican Governor Brian Kemp told reporters he was confident state investigators would “find the truth.”
“Earlier this week, I watched the video depicting Mr Arbery’s last moments alive,” Kemp told a news conference in Atlanta. “I can tell you it’s absolutely horrific and Georgians deserve answers.”
McMichael told police he suspected the runner was the same man filmed by a security camera committing a break-in. He and his grown son, Travis McMichael, grabbed guns and began a pursuit in the truck.
The video shows a Black man running at a jogging pace on the left side of a road with a truck parked on the road ahead of him. One white man is inside the pickup’s bed, while the other is standing beside the driver’s open door.
The runner crosses the road to pass the pick-up truck on the passenger side, then crosses back in front of the truck. A gunshot sounds, and the video shows the runner grappling with a man in the street over what appears to be a shotgun or rifle. A second shot can be heard and the runner can be seen punching the man. A third shot is fired at point-blank range. The runner staggers a few feet and falls face down.
Brunswick defence lawyer Alan Tucker identified himself on Thursday as the person who shared the video. In a statement, Tucker said he was not representing anyone involved in the case. He said he released the video “because my community was being ripped apart by erroneous accusations and assumptions.”
Tucker did not say how he obtained the video. He did not immediately respond to a phone message or an email from the The Associated Press news agency.
The outcry over the killing reached the White House, where President Donald Trump offered condolences Thursday to Arbery’s family.
“It’s a very sad thing,” Trump said in the Oval Office, “but I will be given a full report this evening.”
Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden called Arbery’s death a murder. During an online roundtable meeting on Thursday, Biden compared the video to seeing Arbery “lynched before our very eyes.”