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DOJ Investigating Whether or Not to Pursue Hate Crime Charges in Ahmaud Arbery Case

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  • On Thursday, the two men who allegedly chased and gunned down unarmed black runner Ahmaud Arbery were arrested for his murder after walking free for more than two months after his death. 
  • On Friday, Georgia Bureau of Investigation Director Vic Reynolds said that the agency has “sufficient probable cause in this case for felony murder.” 
  • On Saturday, new footage showing Arbery at a house under construction emerged, though the lawyer for Arbery’s family argued he didn’t take anything and that this wasn’t enough to justify his death.
  • On Sunday, state Attorney General Chris Carr asked the DOJ to investigate local authorities’ handling of the case.
  • On Monday, the DOJ announced it was investigating whether or not to issue federal hate crime charges.

McMichaels Arrested for Arbery’s Death

On Monday, Department of Justice spokesperson Kerri Kupec said the agency is “assessing all of the evidence to determine whether federal hate crimes charges are appropriate” in the shooting death of 25-year-old Ahmaud Arbery.

That announcement is part of a series of rapidly-advancing developments in what began as a slow-to-develop story. For more than two months, Gregory and Travis McMichael walked free after allegedly chasing and gunning down Arbery. On Thursday, they were finally charged with murder. 

Their arrests come just two days after a video appearing to capture their confrontation leaked online. 

According to prosecutors, on Feb. 23, Arbery reportedly went out for a jog in the coastal town of Brunswick, Georgia. During that jog, someone called 911, saying they saw Arbery in a house that was under construction. Before the call ended, Arbery had already left the house. 

Shortly thereafter, 64-year-old Gregory McMichael also saw Arbery, believing him to be the culprit behind a recent series of break-ins. He and his 34-year-old son Travis reportedly grabbed a revolver and a shotgun before chasing Arbery down the road in their truck. Minutes later, Arbery was dead after being shot by Travis McMichael as the two fought over the shotgun.

Friday morning, Georgia Bureau of Investigation Director Vic Reynolds said the agency had found “more than sufficient probable cause in this case for felony murder.” 

At that press conference, Reynolds also addressed questions about potentially arresting a third person. That’s because, according to former prosecutor George Barnhill, another man joined the McMichaels in “hot pursuit” of Arbery. 

Currently, that’s believed to be William Bryan, who filmed that leaked video. Reynolds said that Bryan—along with others—is being investigated. While Reynolds said that more arrests could be made, he also stressed that the agency is going to be guided by facts before making any more arrests.

Bryan’s lawyer has argued that Bryan fully cooperated with the investigation and that he is simply “a witness to the tragic shooting.”

“There had been a number of crimes in the neighborhood, and [Bryan] didn’t recognize [Arbery] and a vehicle that he did recognize was following [Arbery],” that attorney said.

Seemingly countering that testimony, according to a police report, Gregory McMichael said Bryan “attempted to block” Arbery as the men pursued him but “was unsuccessful.”

Video of Arbery in Home Under Construction

On Saturday, several local outlets published more footage of Arbery just before his death. In that footage, a man that appears to be Arbery can be seen going into the house that was under construction.

Notably, he’s only there for a few minutes. He doesn’t appear to take anything. 

In a separate piece of footage, another person runs up to a stand of trees across the street and appears to be watching what’s going on. That footage then ends with Arbery leaving and running back down the street.

After this, the GBI confirmed this video to be part of its investigation, but it wouldn’t say if the first figure in the video was, in fact, Arbery.

Later Saturday, the attorney for Arbery’s family, Lee Merritt, said in a statement that his office does believe the person in the video is Arbery. Still, Merritt said that the existence of such footage is no justification for Arbery’s death.

“He engaged in no illegal activity and remained for only a brief period,” Merritt said. “Ahmaud did not take anything from the construction site. He did not cause any damage to the property.”

Ahmaud’s actions at this empty home under construction were in no way a felony under Georgia law,” he added. “This video confirms that Mr. Arbery’s murder was not justified and the actions of the men who pursued him and ambushed him were unjustified.”

In this time, more videos showing a man that could be Arbery at that house at night have also emerged—some of them reportedly from as far back as October 2019; however, they have not yet been confirmed to show Arbery, and it is unknown why this man was there. Currently, there is little information and large scale reporting on it.

According to Atlanta-based criminal defense lawyer Manny Arora, who spoke with the Atlanta-Journal Constitution, even though Arbery was in that home, that’s not necessarily a crime. At worst, it’s a misdemeanor, unless he was found to have taken anything. 

According to Georgia law, a citizen can arrest a person only if they see that person committing a felony. In most cases, they’re required to use reasonable force to detain a person. Deadly force can only be used to prevent a forcible felony or for self-defense.

Contrary to that law, the McMichaels allegedly initiated this attack with their guns. Arbery was unarmed.

“If you initiate an assault, you don’t get [to] then claim self-defense if the other person reacts to them being assaulted,” Arora said. 

In fact, the evidence that Arbery did not commit a felony in that home on Feb. 23 has been corroborated by the home’s owner, Larry English, who has told media outlets that he has never filed a police report for any stolen property or robbery. 

According to Glynn County police records, there haven’t been any recent burglaries in the neighborhood, except for one filed on Jan. 1 when someone stole a handgun from an unlocked truck parked at the McMichaels’ house.

Georgia AG Asks DOJ to Investigate Arbery Case

Sunday, Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr asked the Department of Justice to investigate how local authorities handled this case. 

Much of the criticism around the case and the lack of charges has been pinned back to the fact that not one but two prosecutors recused themselves for potential conflicts of interest because they had professional connections to Gregory McMichael, who is a former Glynn County police officer.

The second prosecutor in the case, Barnhill, reportedly advised police not to arrest the McMichaels as he was removing himself from the investigation.

“It appears their intent was to stop and hold this criminal suspect until law enforcement arrived,” he wrote to police. “Under Georgia Law this is perfectly legal.” 

Now, it is also being reported that Barnhill reportedly told detectives that Arbery’s killing was a “justifiable homicide.” 

That seemingly contradicts with GBI Director Reynolds saying the agency has “sufficient probable cause” for murder.

Monday morning, the DOJ said it’s considering AG Carr’s request, along with its investigation into potentially charging the McMichaels with a hate crime.

Among notable reactions, on Saturday, Jay-Z, Alicia Keys, Yo Gotti, and Meek Mill all penned a letter through Roc Nation, calling for justice in Arbery’s death. In that letter, the singers address Governor Brian Kemp, AG Carr, and the third prosecutor in the case, Tom Durden.

Though they say the McMichaels’ arrest is “a positive first step on the long road toward justice,” they add that such a development “only strengthens our resolve to see that justice is eventually served.”

In the letter, they also call for Durden to recuse himself and for Carr to appoint a special prosecutor.

Though it’s unknown what effect this letter specifically had, Monday morning, it was reported that Durden would be stepping aside. It was then announced that Cobb County District Attorney Joyette Holmes has been appointed to lead the prosecution against the McMichaels.

See what others are saying: (Atlanta-Journal Constitution) (New York Post) (The Washington Post)

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Soldier Charged With Assault After Shoving Black Man in Viral Video

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  • Authorities charged Army soldier Jonathan Pentland with third-degree assault and battery on Wednesday after a viral video showed him shoving a Black man while yelling at him to leave a South Carolina neighborhood.
  • Many people, including dozens who protested outside Pentland’s home this week, condemned the confrontation as another instance of someone being attacked for “walking while Black.”
  • Pentland and others claimed the unidentified man was picking a fight with neighbors, which the man denied, but police said nothing that may have happened earlier justified Pentland’s actions.
  • If convicted, Pentland faces a $500 fine and 30 days in jail.

Viral Video

A U.S. soldier was charged with assault on Wednesday after a video that circulated online showed him yelling at and shoving a Black man in a South Carolina neighborhood.

Footage of the April 8 incident was posted to social media Monday. It shows the Army soldier, Jonathan Pentland, confronting the unidentified man and telling him to leave the neighborhood. 

The other man explains that he’s just walking through the area and doing nothing wrong, but Pentland becomes increasingly aggressive. “You better walk away,” he shouts at the man after shoving him.

“You either walk away, or I’m gonna carry your ass out of here,” he continues before adding, “You’re in the wrong neighborhood motherf*ker. Get out!”

The man then tries to tell Pentland that he lives in the neighborhood, and Pentland then asks for his address, which he does not give.

The confrontation continues with Pentland cursing and getting in the man’s face. As he does so, the man says that Pentland smells drunk. 

It’s unclear what exactly led up to the confrontation, but in the video, a woman off-camera says the man “picked a fight with some random young lady that’s one of our neighbors.”

“I don’t even know who she is. Nobody picked a fight when someone ran up on me,” the man replies. Another woman off-screen then encourages the man to leave with her, saying, “What’s your name? Come on. You don’t want no trouble.”

Video Triggers Protests Outside Pentland’s Home

After this video spread online, many social media users condemned it as another instance of someone being attacked for “walking while Black.”

In fact, protesters even began demonstrating outside of Penland’s home. Those protests started off peaceful, but deputies were then called after 8 p.m. because unknown individuals vandalized the house. That forced police to shut down access to the area and remove Pentland’s family to another location.

As far as the viral video, deputies were told that the man approached “several neighbors in a threatening manner” and that someone had asked Pentland to “intervene.”

Police did confirm that there are two reports of alleged assault against the unnamed man Pentland shoved that are being investigated. However, they also added that the man has “an underlying medical condition that may explain the behavior exhibited in the alleged incidents.”

Pentland Charged

Either way, police said whatever happened earlier did not justify Pentland’s actions. He was ultimately arrested Wednesday morning and was charged with third-degree assault and battery. He faces a $500 fine and 30 days in jail if convicted.

“We’re not going to let people be bullies in our community,” Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott said at a news conference Wednesday. “And if you are, you’re going to answer for it, and that’s what we’ve done in this case.”

On top of that, the Justice Department reportedly was investigating. Pentland’s Commanding General even issued a statement condemning his behavior, adding that Pentland “brought disrespect to @fortjackson our Army and the trust with the public we serve.”

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (ABC News) (Huffpost)

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Texas Students Created Snapchat Group To ‘Slave Trade’ Black Classmates

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  • Freshmen at a Texas high school set up a Snapchat group to pretend to sell their Black classmates. 
  • A screenshot showed the group name being changed from “Slave Trade” with emojis of a Black man, a gun, and a white police officer to “[racial slur] Farm” and then “[racial slur] Auction.”
  • That image also shows a person saying they would spend $100 on a peer while a second student said they would spend $1 on another, adding “would be better if his hair wasn’t so bad.”
  • The school faced backlash for initially describing it as “an incident of cyberbullying and harassment,” without acknowledging the racism. The district later issued a stronger condemnation and said the students were disciplined but did not list specific consequences.

Racist Snapchat Group

Aledo high school students at Daniel Ninth Grade Campus in Northern Texas are making headlines for setting up a Snapchat group to pretend to sell their Black classmates. 

A screenshot reviewed by several local news outlets showed the group name being changed from “Slave Trade” with emojis of a Black man, a gun, and a white police officer to “[racial slur] Farm” and then “[racial slur] Auction.”

That image also shows a person saying they would spend $100 on a peer. A second student said they would spend $1 on another, adding “would be better if his hair wasn’t so bad.”

Screenshot of group chat message via KXAS

At least one student who was mentioned as being “sold” in the chats was later sent screenshots of the conversations.

According to a report from the Star-Telegram reported last week, when the issue was brought to Principal Carolyn Ansley, she sent parents an email that didn’t mention the Snapchat group but only cited “an incident of cyberbullying and harassment.”

That caused frustrations because parents felt the issue of racism wasn’t being addressed or acknowledged.

Mark Grubbs, a father of three former students, told KXAS he was sickened by the students’ actions. Grubbs, who is Black, also said he had taken his children out of the district over other racist incidents in the past.

“My son being called out of his name and what not and it got to the point he didn’t mind fighting and that didn’t sit right with me and my wife. My son was never a fighter,” he said.

District Responds

After the incident garnered media attention, the Aledo Independent School District issued a statement.

The district said it learned of the incident more than two weeks ago and started an investigation that involved law enforcement.

“There is no room for racism or hatred in the Aledo ISD, period,” it added. “Using inappropriate, offensive and racially charged language and conduct is completely unacceptable and is prohibited by district policy.”

District officials spoke with the students responsible as well as their parents, saying they “made it clear that statements and conduct that targets a student because of his or her race is not only prohibited but also has a profound impact on the victims.”

The district also said it assigned disciplinary consequences, though it did not explicitly state what those consequences were or state how many students were involved.

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (ABC) (Fort Worth Star-Telegram)

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What You Need To Know About the Johnson & Johnson Vaccine Pause

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  • The CDC and the FDA have issued a joint recommendation to pause distribution of Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine amid reports that six women experienced “extremely rare” blood clots after receiving the single-dose shot.
  • The vast majority of the 6.8 million Americans who were given the Johnson & Johnson vaccine have reported minor to no side effects, and no direct link has been established between the vaccine and blood clots at this time. 
  • The two agencies are expected to release updated guidance in the coming days.
  • Several states and cities are now automatically giving the two-dose Pfizer vaccine to people who were scheduled to receive the Johnson & Johnson vaccine this week. 

CDC and FDA Recommend J&J Vaccine Halt

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as well as the Food and Drug Administration, released a statement Tuesday recommending a pause on the use of Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine.

So far, 6.8 million people in the U.S. have been vaccinated with Johnson & Johnson’s single-dose vaccine, most with zero or only mild side effects.

The updated guidance comes after six women, all between the ages of 18 to 48, experienced what both agencies described as “extremely rare” blood clots six to 13 days after being vaccinated. One of those women has died and another is in critical condition.

Neither the CDC nor the FDA has confirmed that the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is the cause of these blood clots; rather, they said this guidance comes “out of an abundance of caution.”

That’s also in line with Johnson & Johnson itself, which said it’s aware of the reports but added that “no clear causal relationship has been established between these rare events.” As a precaution, Johnson & Johnson has also now delayed the rollout of its vaccine in Europe. 

What Happens From Here?

Principal Deputy Director of the CDC Anne Schuchat said further recommendations will come quickly.

FDA Acting Commissioner Janet Woodcock echoed that statement, saying, “We expect it to be a matter of days for this pause.”

Wednesday, a CDC committee will convene to discuss the cases and assess their potential significance.

When asked if the government was overreacting to just six cases out of nearly 7 million vaccinations (a criticism made by some online), Schuchat said the CDC pulled its recommendation specifically because the type of blood clots seen in these 6 women requires special treatment, so “it was of the utmost importance to us to get the word out.”

In the meantime, both agencies are urging Johnson & Johnson vaccine recipients to contact their doctors if they experience any combination of severe headaches, abdominal pain, leg pain, or shortness of breath. 

What If I Had A J&J Appointment?

Both agencies, as well as other health officials, are still urging unvaccinated people to take the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines when available in their area.

The White House’s COVID-19 response coordinator has said that 28 million doses of those vaccines will be made available this week. Notably, that’s more than enough for the country to continue giving 3 million shots a day. 

If you had an appointment scheduled to get the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, you’re likely not completely out of luck.

For example, while D.C. vaccination sites are canceling all Johnson & Johnson appointments between Tuesday and this Saturday, the health department there has said it’ll send out invitations on Wednesday to reschedule.

Similar situations were reported in Virginia and Maryland, though some vaccination sites in Maryland are still honoring existing appointments by automatically giving people Pfizer instead. That’s also a process that is now being conducted in places like New York State and Memphis.

See what others are saying: (Associated Press) (NBC News) (The Washington Post)

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