- The prosecutor investigating the shooting death of 25-year-old Ahmaud Arbery, an unarmed black man killed by two white men, said he now expects a grand jury to review the case.
- Activists have vocally called for the arrests of Gregory and Travis McMichael, who chased and gunned down Arbery on Feb. 23.
- The McMichaels said they believed Arbery was behind a recent string of break-ins, but Arbery’s family says he was only out for a jog.
- So far, no arrests have been filed.
- On Tuesday, the situation ignited even more outrage after a video that appears to be of Arbery’s death seemingly leaked online.
Ahmaud Arbery is Shot and Killed
On Feb. 23, 25-year-old Ahmaud Arbery was shot and killed while running alone on a street in the coastal town of Brunswick, Georgia. On May 5, the prosecutor overseeing the case finally announced that he believed a grand jury would eventually review the case.
With a two-month plus gap and still no criminal charges filed, Arbery’s case has struck an extremely sensitive chord with many activists who have called for the arrests of 64-year-old Gregory McMichael and his 34-year-old son, Travis McMichael.
Notably, Arbery was black. Both of the McMichaels are white.
According to witness testimony from Gregory McMichael in a police report filed with the Glynn County Police Department, Arbery was running alone when he was spotted by McMichael. McMichael told police he believed Arbery was the suspect from a series of recent break-ins in the neighborhood.
McMichael then describes Arbery as “hauling ass” down the road. He said he ran inside and called for Travis to help chase Arbery. Travis grabbed his shotgun while McMichael grabbed his .357 Magnum revolver.
According to McMichael, this was because they “didn’t know if the male was armed or not.” McMichael claimed he had specifically seen Arbery several nights before with his hand stuck in his pants, so he thought he might be armed.
After leaving the house, McMichael and Travis got into a truck to pursue Arbery. According to McMichael, the pair drove up to him and tried to cut him off, but Arbery turned around and began running in the opposite direction.
McMichael said he shouted, “Stop. Stop. We want to talk to you,” but Arbery kept running.
The men shouted again. This time, Travis got out of the truck with the shotgun. At that point, McMichael said Arbery began to “violently” attack Travis. Arbery and Travis then reportedly started fighting over the shotgun.
Travis fired a shot. A second later, he fired another shot. After that, McMichael said Arbery fell down face first with his hand under his body.
McMichael said he rolled Arbery over to see if he had a weapon, but notably, Arbery was unarmed.
Later, when police arrived on the scene, Arbery was pronounced dead on the spot.
No One Is Charged in the Killing of Arbery
Since the shooting, several local news outlets have obtained a recording of a 911 call where an anonymous person says they thought they saw Arbery in a house that was under construction.
“And you said someone’s breaking into it right now?” the dispatcher asks.
“No, it’s all open,” the unidentified caller says. “It’s under construction… And he’s running right now. There he goes right now.”
“Okay, what is he doing?” the dispatcher asks.
“He is running down the street,” the caller says.
Contrary to what McMichaels and that caller may have suspected, Arbery’s family has argued that Arbery was not responsible for those break-ins and that he was most likely only out for a jog.
“Arbery had not committed any crime and there was no reason for these men to believe they had the right to stop him with weapons or to use deadly force in furtherance of their unlawful attempted stop,” Lee Merritt, the family’s attorney said in a statement.
While the police report listed Gregory McMichael as a witness and Travis McMichael as a suspect, neither have been brought into custody or charged with any form of criminal offense.
One of the reasons there may have been a two-month plus delay in action by law enforcement is because there have reportedly been repeated conflicts of interest.
In fact, two prosecutors initially assigned to oversee the case both had to recuse themselves because they had professional connections to Gregory McMichael. That’s because McMichael is actually a former investigator for the Brunswick District Attorney’s office as well as a former officer for the Glynn County Police Department.
Before recusing himself, one of those prosecutors, George E. Barnhill, reportedly advised police that there was insufficient evidence to arrest the McMichaels, arguing that they had acted legally under the state’s citizen arrest and self-defense statutes.
Video of Shooting is Released
In a letter to the police department, Barnhill described a video made by a third man who reportedly joined the McMichaels in “hot pursuit” of Abery.
On Tuesday, a clip that is believed to be that video was leaked online, though police have yet to confirm it. That leaked video has since become the subject of massive controversy as it essentially depicts what appears to be Arbery dying.
Arbery’s family had reportedly made multiple requests to law enforcement to access the video, but according to Merritt, they did not actually see it until it was leaked, even though he claims the police have had it since the day Arbery was killed.
In the video, a man who is believed to be Arbery runs down the street. From a white truck, men shout at the runner. Arbery then runs around the truck, and before he’s seen on camera again, a gunshot can be heard.
Afterward, Arbery and the man who is believed to be Travis McMichael can be seen fighting before disappearing from the frame once again. Notably, unlike the testimony given in the police report, a total of three shots can be heard instead of two.
Following that, Arbery tries to run away but can be seen staggering before falling down.
After that video was leaked, Tom Durden, the District Attorney of Georgia’s Atlantic Judicial Court and the third prosecutor in this case, said in a statement on Tuesday, “After careful review of the evidence, I am confident the case should be presented to the grand jury of Glynn County for consideration of criminal charges.”
Notably, though, all grand juries in Georgia are currently prohibited from meeting until June 12 because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Later that same night, the Georgia Bureau of Investigations said that Durden had formally requested that the agency investigate Arbery’s death.
Community and Activist Reaction to Arbery’s Death
In addition to Arbery’s family, tons of people have cried foul over this shooting and the lack of arrests. After that video leaked on Tuesday, a crowd gathered on the street where Arbery was killed, chanting “We want justice!”
Merritt has also been vocal since the video’s release, saying that the “series of events captured in this video confirm what all the evidence indicated prior to its release— Ahmaud Arbery was pursued by three white men that targeted him solely because of his race and murdered him without justification. This is murder.”
Among other notable people, James Woodall, president of Georgia’s NAACP, criticized the first two prosecutors on the case and called the shooting “white supremacy full on.”
“While we acknowledge District Attorney Tom Durden’s intentions to convene a grand jury to bring charges against the men who gunned down Ahmaud Arbery,” Woodall said, “we recognize that we have a long way to go until we reach justice. The modern-day lynching of Mr. Arbery is yet another reminder of the vile and wicked racism that persists in parts of our country.”
Woodall also plans to hold a protest Friday at the Glynn County courthouse.
Other vocal critics of the shooting include Lebron James, who on Wednesday took to Twitter to say, “We’re literally hunted EVERYDAY/EVERYTIME we step foot outside the comfort of our homes! Can’t even go for a damn jog man! Like WTF man are you kidding me?!?!?!?!?!? No man fr ARE YOU KIDDING ME!!!!! I’m sorry Ahmaud(Rest In Paradise) and my prayers and blessings sent to the heavens above to your family!!” #StayWoke #ProfiledCauseWeAreSimplyBlack”
Actress Olivia Wilde has also been tweeting about Arbery over the last few days, saying on Tuesday, “These monsters have not been charged for this vicious murder that occurred more than 2 mos ago. His crime? Jogging while black. Where is the outrage? @GovKemp, we will not let you ignore this.”
On Thursday, Wilde tweeted that she would participate in a 2.23 mile run on Friday to honor Arbery and to “raise awareness about racism and injustice in this country.” Friday would have marked Arbery’s 26th birthday.
See what others are saying: (Time) (First Coast News) (USA Today)
Viral Photo of Crowded Reopened Georgia High School Sparks Concerns
- A viral photo showing students at North Paulding High School in Georgia walking in a crowded hallway without masks has sparked widespread concerns about schools reopening safely.
- According to BuzzFeed News, there is at least one football player that has tested positive for the coronavirus, as well as several staff members.
- Students who choose to not go to school can be suspended or expelled. Additionally, students who share content criticizing the school can be punished as well, and two have already been suspended for sharing photos of crowded halls, according to BuzzFeed.
- This school is just one of many in Georgia making headlines for seeing positive COVID-19 cases. In Cherokee County, there are four schools with confirmed cases that have forced dozens of students to quarantine within their first week back.
Viral Photo in North Paulding High School
When North Paulding High School in Georgia opened back up on Monday, kids were crammed in the hallway between classes, shoulder to shoulder, many without masks.
A photo that captured one of these crowded halls quickly went viral, prompting widespread outrage as it highlighted just one of several concerns many have about schools reopening throughout the state.
Paulding County Schools Superintendent Brian Otott addressed the photo in a letter early this week, claiming that it lacked larger context. Masks are not mandatory at North Paulding, as the school district said that the choice to wear a mask is a personal one, and claim enforcing a mandate is not realistic. Otott also said that students are not passing one another in the hallway to transmit COVID-19.
Health experts, however, do not believe this is true. With such close proximity and a lack of masks, transmission in situations like this is still possible. The school’s first day also comes as both new cases and deaths in the state of Georgia are in their peak. So far, the state has had a total of 186,395 cases and 3,899 deaths.
If that photo did not spark enough concerns, there is also already at least one confirmed coronavirus case on North Paulding’s football team. According to BuzzFeed News, footballers at the school are not the only ones at risk.
Teachers told the outlet that there are positive cases among the staff, including an employee who came into contact with most teachers while they were symptomatic. Still, the school will not confirm cases among employees for privacy reasons.
“That was exactly one week ago, so we are all waiting to see who gets sick next week,” one teacher told BuzzFeed.
Most who are nervous about attending school are left with essentially no other option than to face their fears and risk infection. Virtual learning was an option for students at North Paulding, but the limited slots filled up quickly. On top of this, BuzzFeed News learned from a set of parents who wanted to keep their son home upon seeing the photo, that any student who chooses to not attend school could face suspension or expulsion.
On top of this, the school made an announcement warning students that anyone who shared negative content about the school online would face disciplinary action. According to BuzzFeed News, two students have already been suspended for sharing now-viral photos of crowded halls.
North Paulding is not the only school in the state making headlines. In Cherokee County, a second grader tested positive for the virus on the first day of school. Now, their class of 20 students will be quarantining for 14 days.
On Wednesday, officials announced that three additional schools in the county had positive cases. Those cases involved a first grader, eighth grader, and Kindergarten teacher. Several students and staff at each of these schools now must undergo a two week quarantine as well.
Statewide, school officials are concerned about what the school year will look like.
“So long as COVID-19 runs rampant, there will be too many bodies in close quarters for us to co-exist in a traditional setting,” Dooly County Schools Superintendent Craig Lockhart telling the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “We are not ready to return to in-person schooling and be highly confident that we can protect employees and students.”
But on the other side of this, there are parents and students eager to get back to in person classes, either because they trust their school district to handle things well, or because online learning at home just was not working well for them.
“There is a really strong case for trying to reopen schools because there are so many benefits, both for children, not only academic benefits but health and social-emotional health, and also for families, many of whom are trying to get back to work to restart the economy,” Charlene Wong, an assistant professor of pediatrics at the Duke School of Medicine also told the AJC.
Can Kids Spread the Virus?
Still, Wong believes that safety opening schools is complex and requires a multitude of safety measures. The risk is especially high because experts are still in the early stages of learning what role children play in spreading and getting this virus, especially in a crowded space like a school. Currently, most studies and research have not focused on children, so there is not enough data to prove anything just yet, despite the widespread belief that children are less likely to get and transmit the virus.
In fact, one case out of Georgia proves that idea wrong. One summer camp in Georgia was forced to close after there were 260 coronavirus cases on site, the majority of which came from people aged 17 and younger.
Another study done in South Korea concluded that while children nine and under do not transmit the virus as frequently as adults, the risk of them doing so still exists. That study also claims that people between the ages 10 and 19 actually spread COVID-19 at the same rate as adults.
See what others are saying: (BuzzFeed News) (Atlanta Journal-Constitution) (Washington Post)
NJ Woman Charged for Assaulting Staples Customer Who Asked Her to Correctly Wear a Mask
- New Jersey Police have charged 25-year-old Terri Thomas with second-degree aggravated assault for violently tossing a woman with a cane to the ground at a Staples store last Wednesday.
- Thomas attacked 54-year-old Margot Kagan for telling her to wear her face mask properly.
- Kagan, who police say had a liver transplant four months ago, was hospitalized and is recovering from a leg injury that required surgery as a result of the incident.
Police in New Jersey said Tuesday that they arrested and charged a woman caught on surveillance video attacking a fellow Staples customer who told her to correctly wear her mask.
The dispute happened inside a Hackensack Staples store last Wednesday when 54-year-old Margot Kagan was using the copy machine. Kagan, who police said had a liver transplant four months ago, noticed 25-year-old Terri Thomas walk by with her mask below her mouth.
Kagan told a local news station that she told Thomas, “You should really put a mask on,” and warned her that she was endangering everyone. However, the remarks made Thomas angry she reportedly began yelling.
The surveillance footage shows Thomas walking towards Kagan, who lifts her cane to keep Thomas away. Thomas then reaches for the cane and violently tosses Kagan to the ground.
Thomas walks out of view for a few seconds and when she returns, Kagan sticks her leg out to trip Thomas, but Thomas ultimately walks away unharmed and leaves the store.
Injuries and Charges
Kagan was hospitalized after the attack and police said she left with a fractured left tibia that required surgery. However, Kagan later told ABC 7 she suffered a broken knee and required a steel plate to be put in. She also claims she’s been told by doctors that she won’t be able to put weight on her leg for seven to 10 weeks.
As far as Thomas, police have charged her with second-degree aggravated assault and she was released on a summons pending a court appearance on August 24. In New Jersey, the charge is punishable by 5-10 years in jail, and fines as high as $150,000.
Hackensack police are encouraging anyone who witnessed the crime or have any information to reach out to them.
Aurora Police Apologize for Drawing Weapons on Black Family in Mistaken Stop
- Police drew guns on a Black family in Aurora, Colorado on Sunday who they believed were in a stolen vehicle, ordering the group out of the car and facedown down on the ground.
- The passengers were girls between the ages of 6 and 17 and video shows them sobbing in fear during the incident, with at least two minors in handcuffs.
- The adult female driver was able to confirm that the car was not stolen and police explained that the car had the same plate information as a car reported stolen in a different state. They also blamed the mixup on the fact that the family’s car was reported stolen earlier this year, even though Aurora police returned it back to them a day later.
- The city’s new police chief apologized and offered them therapy resources. She also said officers followed protocol but should be allowed to use discretion to deviate in situations like this and has ordered her team to look at new training practices.
Police in Aurora, Colorado apologized Monday for drawing weapons on a Black family after mistaking their car for another stolen vehicle.
On Sunday, August 2, Brittney Gilliam decided to take her 6-year-old daughter, 12-year-old sister, and 14 and 17-year-old nieces out to get their nails done. Gilliam told CNN that her niece had just gotten back in the car after looking to see if the nail salon they wanted to go to was open. At this point, she and the girls were parked in a parking lot with the car turned off.
That’s when Aurora police pulled up behind the vehicle with guns drawn. Then, police allegedly yelled at the group to put their hands out of the window and get out of the car.
She said the family exited the vehicle and were told to lay face down on the ground. At that time, police handcuffed Gilliam, her 12-year-old sister, and 17-year-old niece. Gilliam claims that police would not explain why she was pulled over until she was handcuffed. Then, they pulled her away to verify her claim that the car was not stolen as the children remained on the ground.
A bystander named Jennifer Wurtz began recorded the incident after the family was handcuffed. The footage is about 12 and a half minutes long, but a shorter minute in a half-second clip went viral on Twitter. That clip shows the minors facedown on the floor sobbing as police try to keep onlookers away.
Eventually, police sit the children up and in the longer video, Wurtz can be heard pressing the officers about why they had drawn guns on children.
Police repeatedly asked her to stop interfering, however, they did say she had the right to film. Wurtz stopped pointing the phone towards the scene, but continued to criticize the stop and asked for the officers’ names.
As frustration from onlookers grew, one officer explained that this was a “high-risk stop” and that police were following procedure.
The onlookers were still angry about the policy being used against children and became angrier after learning that the car was in fact, not stolen.
What Caused the Confusion?
As far as what the mixup actually was, Gilliam explained that she had reported her car stolen in February, but that case was cleared up. In fact, her attorney told CNN that when her vehicle was stolen, it was actually returned to her the next day by Aurora police.
In a statement late Monday, Intern Chief of Police Vanessa Wilson said that after the stop, police realized the car Gilliam was driving was not stolen. Instead, another vehicle with the same plate information but from a different state had been. The Associated Press reported that the vehicle was a motorcycle from Montana.
In her statement, Wilson said “The confusion may have been due, in part, to the fact that the stopped car was reported stolen. After realizing the mistake, officers immediately unhandcuffed everyone involved, explained what happened and apologized.”
“I have called (Gilliam’s) family to apologize and to offer any help we can provide, especially for the children who may have been traumatized by yesterday’s events,” she continued. “I have reached out to our victim advocates so we can offer age-appropriate therapy that the city will cover.”
Outrage and Apology
Still, that did little to put the community at ease, especially since the incident comes amid widespread frustration over how Black people are treated by police. Frustrations are especially high in Aurora, where police have faced security for the 2019 death of Elijah McClain. McClain was an unarmed Black man who was stopped by officers as he walked home after he was reported as a suspicious person in a ski mask.
During the confrontation, officers placed him in a chokehold and paramedics injected him with ketamine to sedate him. He then suffered a heart attack in the ambulance and was declared brain dead days later before being taken off life support.
Just last month, two officers were fired for reenacting the chokehold in a photo near the memorial site for Elijah McClain A third officer was fired for not alerting supervisors about the photo while a fourth resigned before a disciplinary hearing about the incident.
So this latest incident piled on the existing outrage against the local department and police policies in general. And many, including Gilliam, felt that the stolen car mixup did not justify how the young girls were treated.
“That’s police brutality,” she told KUSA. “There’s no excuse why you didn’t handle it a different type of way. … You could have even told them, ‘Step off to the side let me ask your mom or your auntie a few questions so we can get this cleared up.’ ”
In her statement, Chief Wilson confirmed that a suspect in a stolen vehicle is a high-risk stop, and said officers followed procedures they are trained to carry out. However, she added that the department, “must allow our officers to have discretion and to deviate from this process when different scenarios present themselves.”
Wilson added that an internal investigation into this incident has been opened and said she had directed her team to look at new practices and training. Her promises to reexamine department practices are especially significant because that same Monday night, Aurora’s city council voted to make Wilson the city’s permanent police chief.