The Atlanta branch of the NAACP is calling for an investigation into a “history of inequality” in Glynn County following the shooting death of Ahmaud Arbery.
NAACP leaders and Arbery family attorneys held a news conference Tuesday in Atlanta, saying Gregory and Travis McMichael were only arrested because video of the shooting surfaced.
“The greatest injustice in this case was not only the brutal murder of Ahmaud Arbery, but the response by the legal apparatus of South Georgia. They responded as if his life didn’t matter,” said Arbery family attorney Lee Merritt.
Members of the NAACP, local pastors and Arbery family attorneys said there is a long history of judicial corruption and injustice in the state of Georgia when it comes to African Americans and how their cases are handled in their communities and in the courtroom.
“The issue is one of accountability, and we have to hold this community, the powerful accountable,” said Atlanta NAACP Vice President Gerald Griggs. "It’s standard practice for the GBI to investigate, and then we wait years, upon years, upon years. Sometimes there’s justice.”
The news conference was held a day after a video was released showing Arbery having a tense confrontation in a public park with Glynn County police who attempted to use a stun gun on him following Arbery’s refusal to let them search his parked car. Supporters said the video highlights a bigger problem: the criminalization of black people after they’ve died.
“Over and over again, the black community has been called criminals – barbecuing, criminals walking down the street, criminals jogging. Ahmaud Arbery has been in the media today, they continue to release new images of Ahmaud Arbery to criminalize Arbery. He’s the victim," Merritt said. “The same reason Ahmaud was killed in the streets is the same reason why he was stopped in that park: the criminalization of blackness itself. They saw a black man in the park and said, ‘You know what, that’s suspicious.’”
Arbery was shot and killed Feb. 23 following a pursuit by a white father and son who armed themselves and gave chase after seeing the 25-year-old black man running in their subdivision. More than two months passed the video of the killing emerged, sparking an outcry. Gregory McMichael, 64, and Travis McMichael, 34, were then jailed on charges of felony murder and aggravated assault.
Gregory McMichael, a retired investigator for Brunswick District Attorney’s Office, told police he thought Arbery was a burglar. He said Arbery attacked his son before he was shot.
Arbery’s mother, Wanda Cooper-Jones, has said she believes her son was merely out jogging.
“Criminal is the new black, and if you can impute criminality on the mundane activity like jogging down the street, then you can justify the murder,” Merritt said.
The video of the deadly shooting was recorded by William “Roddie” Bryan, whose attorney held a news conference late Monday evening, saying Bryan his fiancee have been in hiding and fearing for their lives.
“'Roddie’ Bryan is not now and has never been more than a witness to the shooting of Mr. Arbery. He is not a vigilante. Roddie did not participate in the horrific killing of this young man. Mr. Bryan has committed no crime and bears no criminal responsibility in the death of Ahmaud Arbery,” said Bryan’s attorney, Kevin Gough. "Mr. Bryan is not your enemy. My plea is this: Please stop – Please stop doing and saying things that place the lives of ‘Roddie’ and his family in danger. Whether you realize it or not, y’all have put a target on his back.”
On Tuesday, Arbery family attorneys called for Bryan’s arrest.
“The attorney for William Bryan tried to make his client the victim. It boggles the mind how he can say his clinet was unarmed and afraid,” Merritt said.
Merritt stood beside NAACP leaders as they also called for the removal of two South Georgia district attorneys who refused to charge the McMichaels: Brunswick District Attorney Jackie Johnson and Waycross District Attorney George Barnhill.
“We are demanding that the DAs down in Brunswick need to be voted out. If not voted out, we need to run them out, chase them out or kick them out,” said Rev. Gerald Durley, of Concerned Black Clergy.
The News4Jax I-TEAM has reported both Johnson and Barnhill had conflicts of interest in the case.
Johnson recused herself because Gregory McMichael is a retired investigator from her office.
Attorneys for Arbery’s family also said Barnhill, the first outside prosecutor appointed to the case, should have immediately recused himself because he knew his son worked with investigator Gregory McMichael in the Brunswick District Attorney’s Office together on cases. Instead, Barnhill issued a written statement, laying out why he thought the shooting was justified. But when the Georgia Bureau of Investigation got the case, it saw enough evidence to file felony murder charges in 36 hours.
Bill Atkins, a civil rights attorney not connected with the Arbery case but previously involved in cases against the Glynn County Police Department, said questions on how the case was handled are warranted.
“Here is the part that just baffled me: At some point, a law enforcement officer or two from Glynn County Police Department walked up on a scene with a dead man lying on the ground unarmed and two men holding guns standing over him. I can think of no scenario where an officer in that context that an officer would accept as gospel that the shooting was in self-defense. That’s a great defense at trial, maybe even pretrial. It doesn’t obviate probable cause – the law is crystal clear on that,” Atkins said.
As for her part, Johnson has only offered this statement: "We are confident that any investigation will ultimately show that our office acted appropriately under the circumstances. ... Our obligation has been, and will always be, to honor, protect, and abide by the law.”
Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr has asked the GBI to investigate possible prosecutorial misconduct by Johnson and Barnhill.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.