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Mother of Ahmaud Arbery: Pass a hate crime law in Georgia

Wanda Cooper-Jones, Ahmaud Arbery’s mother, asks Georgia lawmakers to pass a hate crime law in a video published by the New York Times. (Screenshot via New York Times)

BRUNSWICK, Ga. – The mother of Ahmaud Arbery, a black man who was chased and killed in Georgia while out on a jog, is calling for Georgia lawmakers to pass a hate crime law in response to her son’s death and other hate-inspired crimes in the state.

Wanda Cooper-Jones made her plea in an opinion video published by the New York Times on Tuesday.

“To me, this was clearly a hate crime, but Georgia is one of four states in the country without a hate crime law," Cooper-Jones said. “If Georgia had a hate crime law, Ahmaud’s killers could face additional sentencing for murdering my son because of the color of his skin.”

Greg McMichael, 64, and his son, Travis McMichael, 34, are charged with felony murder and aggravated assault in connection with Arbery’s death in February.

During testimony last week, a GBI investigator said a witness overheard Travis McMichael use an expletive along with a racial slur to describe Arbery following the fatal shooting. The GBI investigator also said he had seen “many” other examples of Travis McMichael using the “n-word” on social media.

Lee Merritt, attorney for Arbery family, said the new evidence should be instructive to the FBI investigation into federal hate crime charges.

Greg McMichael, a former district attorney investigator, later told investigators he thought he recognized Arbery from a previous video he had seen from February that showed somebody that was inside a house that was under construction. Greg McMichael told investigators he didn’t know if Arbery had stolen anything or not that day “but his instinct told him he was the one responsible for thefts in the neighborhood.”

“I know that prejudice and racism did exist in the place that I chose (to call) home. I had to explain to Ahmaud that he will be sometimes disliked because the color of his skin. But when he left our home for a jog, I never thought that I needed to be worried. Ahmaud wasn’t killed because he was doing a crime. So, why would he have been targeted if it wasn’t just for hate?”

Georgia lawmakers are scheduled to go back into session on June 15, and Cooper-Jones called on them to bring a hate crime bill up for a vote.

“Last year, Georgia State House moved in the right direction, passing House Bill 426, which will impose harsher sentencing for hate crimes. But the bill has been stalled for a year and state senate leadership refuses to vote on it. Chairman (of the Judiciary Committee) Jesse Stone and Lieutenant Governor (Geoff) Duncan, please do the right thing,” Cooper-Jones said. “If we can’t stop these hate-inspired attacks, we can at least prosecute them for what they are."

A coalition of more than 60 business leaders including those from Atlanta United, Delta Air Lines, The Coca-Cola Company, United Parcel Service, Home Depot and Microsoft also joined the call, signing a June 8 letter advocating for passage of House Bill 426, also known as the Georgia Hate Crimes Act, the Atlanta Business Chronicle reported. The bill is sponsored by state Rep. Chuck Efstration, a Republican from Dacula.

About the Author:

Digital reporter who has lived in Jacksonville for more than 25 years and focuses on important local issues like education and the environment.