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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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George Floyd’s Family Calls for First-Degree Murder Charge and Arrests of Other Officers

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  • The former officer who was seen on video pressing his knee into the back of George Floyd’s neck has been charged with Third-degree murder and manslaughter.
  • Hennepin County Attorney Michael Freeman said he expects the three other fired officers who were at the scene to be charged, but felt Chauvin’s case was important to handle first. 
  • Floyd’s family issued a statement calling for a First-degree murder charge instead, as well as the arrest of the other officers.
  • New footage of the incident also circulated online, showing how close those other officers were to Floyd during the arrest.

Chauvin Arrested and Charged 

After days of violent protests and widespread demands for justice, former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was arrested and charged for the death of George Floyd.  

Chauvin was fired Tuesday, along with three other officers involved in the detainment of Floyd, with Chauvin specifically identified as the man who pressed his knee into Floyd’s neck for more than eight minutes. 

Chauvin and the other officers detained Floyd in handcuffs Monday after he allegedly used a counterfeit bill at a convenience store. But outrage grew after video of the arrest was released, which showed 46-year-old Floyd, who was unarmed, repeatedly stating that he couldn’t breathe as the officer held his position. Floyd eventually lost consciousness and was pronounced dead at the hospital.

Chauvin was taken into custody Friday morning, according to Minnesota Department of Public Safety Commissioner John Harrington. A short time after that news broke, Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman announced that Chauvin was charged with Third-degree murder and manslaughter. 

“We entrust our police officers to use certain amounts of force to do their job to protect us. They commit a criminal act if they use this force unreasonably,” he said.

Freeman also said he anticipated that charges would come against the other three officers, however, he said, “We felt it was appropriate to focus on the most dangerous perpetrator. This case has moved with extraordinary speed.”

Freeman said that the criminal complaint would be completed and available later in the day. As of now, the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) and the FBI are both investigating Floyd’s death. 

If convicted of third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter, Chauvin would face up to 25 years in prison on the first charge and up to 10 years on the second.

Third-degree murder means an offender did not intend to kill, but that someone died “by perpetrating an act eminently dangerous to others and evincing a depraved mind, without regard for human life.”

For this reason, many are unsatisfied with the level of the charge. Others are calling for all officers involved to face repercussions and are frustrated by all of the pleading and widespread calls for justice that it took for charges to come in the first place. 

Floyd Family’s Response 

The family of George Floyd seems to share a similar opinion. They responded to news of the charges in a statement shared by their attorney, Benjamin Crump.

In it, they said the arrest was a “welcome but overdue step on the road to justice.” However, they added that they expected and want a First-degree murder charge.

“We call on authorities to revise the charges to reflect the true culpability of this officer,” the statement continued.

The family also noted that the other officers should also face consequences as well. “For four officers to inflict this kind of unnecessary, lethal force – or watch it happen – despite outcry from witnesses who were recording the violence – demonstrates a breakdown in training and policy by the City.”

“We fully expect to see the other officer who did nothing to protect the life of George Floyd to be arrested and charged soon.” 

New Video Angle

Also on Friday, details from the medical examiner’s report were released.

“Mr. Floyd had underlying health conditions including coronary artery disease and hypertensive heart disease,” said the complaint from the Hennepin County Attorney. “The combined effects of Mr. Floyd being restrained by police, his underlying health conditions and any potential intoxicants in his system likely contributed to his death,” it added.

New video also appeared on social media that appears to better show just how close those other officers were during the arrest, according to CNN and NBN News. In it, two of the officers appear to be kneeling, though it’s unclear if they are placing their knees on Floyd’s body or on the ground.

Image: Minneapolis police user generated video
Screenshot from footage obtained by NBC News showing position of other officers.

The footage was filmed from the opposite side of where the more widely viewed footage featuring Chauvin was captured. It has further pushed the argument that the officers were complicit in his death and should be charged accordingly. 

See what others are saying: (The Guardian) (Wall Street Journal) (The New York Times)

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Twitter Places Warning on Trump and White House Tweets for “Glorifying Violence”

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Photo by Doug Mills-Pool

  • President Trump tweeted about protestors in Minneapolis Thursday night, warning that he will call for more control of the demonstrations and adding, “when the looting starts, the shooting starts.” 
  • That phrase was used in 1967 by Miami Police Chief Walter Headley when describing his plans to crack down on protests in black neighborhoods, and it was considered to have contributed to the city’s race riots in the late 1960s. 
  • Twitter placed a warning on the post containing the phrase for “glorifying violence,” however, the tweet is still visible because the platform says it may be of public interest.
  • Users cannot comment, retweet, or like the post, but retweets with comments are still permitted.

What Did Trump Tweet?

Twitter placed a warning label over a tweet from President Donald Trump after determining that it violated its rules about “glorifying violence.” Many view the move as the latest escalation of tension between Trump and the social media platform. 

The tweet flagged was the second in a two-part thread about the ongoing protests in Minneapolis over the death of George Floyd, a black man who was pinned down by a white police officer who pressed his knee over Floyd’s neck for several minutes. 

In the first tweet, the president says he “can’t stand back & watch this happen to a great American City, Minneapolis.” That comment was seemingly in reference to reports of looting, fires, and violence happening during demonstrations. Trump then slammed Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey, uring him to control the situation otherwise he will send in the National Gaurd. 

However, his most controversial comments came in the second post, where he said: “These THUGS are dishonoring the memory of George Floyd, and I won’t let that happen. Just spoke to Governor Tim Walz and told him that the Military is with him all the way. Any difficulty and we will assume control but, when the looting starts, the shooting starts. Thank you!”

Of course, many were frustrated with the president’s characterization of protestors as “thugs,” but Twitter’s issue with the post centered around the phrase “when the looting starts, the shooting starts.”

History Behind the Phrase 

That phrase was used in 1967 by Miami Police Chief Walter Headley to describe his department’s plans to crack down on protests in black neighborhoods. 

At the time, he said, “We don’t mind being accused of police brutality,” adding “They haven’t seen anything yet.” He also characterized black protestors as “young hoodlums who have taken advantage of the civil rights campaign.”

When giving those statements, Headley also claimed that his department hadn’t faced any series problems with “civil uprising and looting” because he let word filter down “that when the looting starts, the shooting starts.” 

That comment was met with a ton of outrage and according to The Washington Post, the phrase was considered to have contributed to the city’s race riots in the late 1960s. 

Twitter’s Warning 

In response to Trump’s use of the phrase, Twitter hit the post with a warning which notifies users that the tweet violates its rules against “glorifying violence.”

Twitter did not remove the tweet, as it typically forces users to do under the policy. That’s because, in the past, the company said there is a higher standard when it comes to taking action against messages from world leaders.

Instead, Twitter added in its warning that it “may be in the public’s interest for the Tweet to remain accessible.” However, users are unable to like, reply, or retweet the post. Retweets with comments are still possible. 

In a statement about their decision, Twitter reiterated that notice saying: “We’ve taken action in the interest of preventing others from being inspired to commit violent acts, but have kept the Tweet on Twitter because it is important that the public still be able to see the Tweet given its relevance to ongoing matters of public importance.”

White House Shared Trump’s Tweet

Despite Twitter’s actions, the official White House Twitter account quoted Trump’s original tweet with the same text Friday morning.

That tweet was met with the same warning label as Trump’s initial

The White House later shared another post defending the president, arguing that he did not glorify but instead condemned violence. It also tagged Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey and said his site’s “biased, bad-faith ‘fact-checkers’ have made it clear: Twitter is a publisher, not a platform.”

Escalating Tensions Between Trump and Twitter

Twitter’s decision to mark the tweets came after the platform took similar action earlier this week, placing a fact check warning over one of the president’s posts for the first time ever. 

In that post, Trump falsely claimed that increased access to mail-in voting will lead to extensive voter fraud, despite the fact that experts say voter fraud in the U.S. is incredibly rare. 

Trump criticized the warning Tuesday, accusing the company of stifling free speech and by Wednesday said he planned to “strongly regulate” or “close down” social media platforms. 

Then on Thursday, Trump signed an executive order that seeks to limit the legal protections under section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which generally protects social media companies from liability for the content posted on their platforms. 

After catching wind of Twitter’s latest warning message, Trump threw out more criticism of the platform for allegedly targetting conservatives.

He closed that post with another mention about changing Section 230 and later quoted comments from others speaking in his defense.

Trump later responded to backlash over his looting and shooting statement, saying he doesn’t “want this to happen, and that’s what the expression put out last night meant.”

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (Fox News) (NBC News)

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CNN Crew Released From Police Custody After Being Arrested While Reporting Live in Minneapolis

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  • A CNN crew that was arrested while covering George Floyd protests in Minneapolis has been released from Minnesota State Patrol’s custody.
  • Reporter Omar Jimenez, producer Bill Kirkos, and photojournalist Leonel Mendez were detained live on air after asking officers where they should move their setup. CNN says officers arrested them for not moving when told to.
  • Minnesota State Patrol tweeted that it released the three upon confirming that they were members of the media in a statement that has received a lot of public criticism.
  • CNN says the crew identified themselves as journalists before they were arrested. A CNN reporter also noted that Jimenez, who is black and Latino, was arrested while another white CNN reporter in Minneapolis had little to no issues with police.

CNN Crew Arrested

CNN reporter Omar Jimenez is back on the field after Minnesota State Patrol officers arrested him and his crew while covering protests over the death of George Floyd.

Jimenez and two other crew members were arrested early Friday morning. The incident happened live on air and quickly spread across social media.

Officers were moving to clear an area of downtown Minneapolis when Jimenez asked them where he and his crew should relocate. 

“We can move back to where you like. We are live on the air here,” he told the officers, according to footage of the arrest. “Put us back where you want us. We are getting out of your way.”

Jimenez identified himself as a reporter and told the officers he was reporting live. As he was asking the officers where the crew should relocate, he was put in handcuffs. 

“Do you mind telling me why I’m under arrest, sir?” Jimenez asked before he was walked out of the scene. Moments later, producer Bill Kirkos and photojournalist Leonel Mendez were arrested as well and taken into police custody.

At one point, it appears that an officer walks away with the camera angled towards the ground. That individual then places it on the group, seemingly unaware that it was still rolling.

CNN Crew Released

The crew was covering the third night of protests over the death of Floyd, an unarmed black man who died after a police officer pressed his knee to his neck for at least eight minutes.

The protests have become increasingly violent as calls for charges against the officers involved in Floyd’s death continue. Some buildings and shops have been vandalized or looted. A police precinct was also set ablaze. 

The three CNN staffers were released after a few hours. Jimenez posted a photo of him back in front of the camera in Minneapolis. 

“We’re doing okay, now. There were a few uneasy moments there,” Jimenez told CNN.

According to CNN, Minnesota Governor Tim Walz apologized for the incident to the network’s Worldwide President Jeff Zucker Friday morning. 

Walz said he “deeply apologizes” for what happened and is working to have the team released from custody immediately.

Walz described the arrests as “unacceptable,” said the crew clearly has the right to be there. He added that he wants the media to be in Minnesota to cover the protests.

Anger at Minnesota State Patrol 

According to CNN, Jimenez, Kirkos and Mendez were arrested because they were asked to move and did not.

Minnesota State Patrol sent out a tweet on Friday morning explaining that “in the course of clearing the streets and restoring order” they arrested four people, three of whom worked for CNN. They claimed that they released the trio upon learning they were members of the media. 

However, CNN called this statement “inaccurate” because officers were made aware that the three were members of the press before they were arrested.

“Our CNN crew identified themselves, on live television, immediately as journalists,” a tweet from CNN Communications claimed. 

The Minnesota State Patrol’s claim that they released the crew once they were confirmed to be reporters was met with backlash online. CNN anchor Jake Tapper responded to the tweet saying “they were live on air the entire time.”

“That’s not what happened. This is a lie,” Academy Award-nominated filmmaker Ava Duvernay tweeted. “We all saw it. This spin is erroneous and disingenuous.”

Others noted that Jimenez, who is black and Latino, was arrested while other white CNN reporters had little to no issues with police. 

“My other colleague @joshscampbell is also on the scene in Minneapolis,” said CNN correspondent Abby Phillip. Phillip says that when Campbell told officers he was with CNN, they responded with. “Ok, you’re good.”

“It’s just impossible not to note the difference,” said CNN anchor Alisyn Camerota. “Since the police didn’t give us much of an explanation for what they were doing against the backdrop of these fires burning and George Floyd’s death, it’s impossible not to note the difference here.”

See what others are saying: (CNN) (Axios) (New York Times)

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