Prominent politicians and the mainstream media are once again seizing on an interracial shooting as evidence of widespread violent racism in America, but questions are now being raised about the facts
By Nick Ochs
In February, 25-year-old black man Ahmaud Arbery of Brunswick, Georgia was shot and killed in an incident captured on video. This 36 second video clip was filmed from a vehicle driving behind Arbery, who can be seen running on a road with a white pickup truck stopped just ahead of him.
Gregory McMichael and his son Travis McMichael exit the truck and can be heard saying “Stop” and “We want to talk to you.” Arbery runs around the truck, then toward a man holding a shotgun. As Arbery collides with
the armed man, a struggle ensues and a shot is heard. The fight continues for several seconds, with another shot audible but not captured on video. A third shot then comes from the other man in the back of the pickup truck armed with a pistol. Arbery then stops fighting the man with the shotgun and collapses. He had been fatally wounded.
The McMichaels said in a police report that they pursued Arbery since he matched the description of a burglary suspect and there had been multiple recent break-ins in the area. No arrests were made. The McMichaels now have their names, addresses, and phone numbers published online. People who have made threats made against the McMihaels on social media include activist Shaun King, who wrote on Facebook, “To Gregory and Travis McMichael. I need you to know that I know where you live and are
hiding out. Right now I’m the only thing keeping about 150 different people from killing you.”
That footage went viral on social media this week and has provoked outrage from political voices on the right and left. Both Georgia’s Republican Senator Kelly Loeffler and Joe Biden have called for investigations, with Biden going so far as to allege murder.
Various media companies, including Business Insider and Newsweek, have reported as fact that Arbery was jogging when he was shot. The claim that Arbery was simply jogging was made by family and has been met with skepticism by some online commenters who noticed that he was wearing cargo shorts and was miles from his home. Attention has also been drawn to Arbery’s previous conviction for attempting to bring a loaded handgun to a high school basketball game.
Most current stories include statements of fact that Arbery was jogging at the time of his death.
While his location, clothes, and record are not enough to discount the possibility that Arbery was exercising and was a victim of racism, other evidence has raised doubts about that narrative.
Minutes before the deadly altercation, a 911 call was made from the area describing a black man in a white T-shirt burglarizing a partially built house. The caller also described the burglar as running away
from the scene. While talking to the online magazine The Daily Beast, Arbery’s own aunt has identified him as the one in the security footage from that house. She also maintains he was not stealing from it.
Still from the security camera footage in which Arbery was positively identified by his own aunt. George Barnhill was the prosecutor assigned to the case but recused himself because his son works in the same district attorney’s office that once employed Gregory McMichael. In a letter to the police uncovered by the New York Times, Barnhill explained in detail why he felt no charges should be brought against the McMicheals.
Barnhill wrote that it is “perfectly legal” in Georgia to ask a burglary suspect to stop while in hot pursuit, and that no gun laws were broken by the pursuers. Barnhill additionally wrote that there is video of Arbery “burglarizing a home immediately preceding the chase and confrontation.”
What can be reported with more certainty than jogging is that Arbery appears to have been on someone else’s property minutes before the confrontation and that the McMichaels did not discharge any
firearms until after Arbery made physical contact.
There is growing speculation that an item seen in the path of Ahmaud Arbery is a hammer he discarded during the chase, but this remains unconfirmed.
With such high-profile cases of mainstream media reporting now well-known falsehoods including the Jussie Smollet and Nick Sandman/Covington Catholic School fiascos, media watchdogs are urging more careful fact checking. Media figures, celebrities, and activists have used the jogging reports as evidence that everyday activities, such as jogging in a white neighborhood, are dangerous for black people.
If Ahmaud Arbery was trespassing or stealing at the time of his death there may be a further public backlash on irresponsible reporting.
The Georgia Bureau of Investigation is currently investigating Arbery’s death and as of this writing both Gregory McMichael and Travis McMichael have been arrested and charged with murder.