The parents of a black man killed by two white men in Georgia have called for immediate arrests after video footage of the incident surfaced online this week.
Public outcry over the shooting on 23 February of Ahmaud Arbery has intensified following the video’s release. A large crowd of demonstrators marched in the neighborhood where Arbery was killed, and the state opened its own investigation, which the governor and attorney general pledged to support.
Arbery’s mother, Wanda Cooper Jones, told reporters on Wednesday her 25-year-old son “was just out for his daily jog” when he was shot dead in a neighborhood outside the port city of Brunswick. She hasn’t watched the video.
“I saw my son come into the world,” Jones said. “And seeing him leave the world, it’s not something that I’ll want to see ever.”
Neighbours told the Guardian they often saw Arbery out for his daily jog, and he would wave at some as he passed.
No arrests have been made or charges filed in coastal Glynn county, more than two months after the killing. An outside prosecutor in charge of the case said he wants a grand jury to decide whether criminal charges are warranted. That won’t happen until at least mid-June, since Georgia courts remain largely closed because of the coronavirus.
Attorneys for Arbery’s family said the father and son, who have acknowledged in a police report grabbing guns and pursuing Arbery in a truck after seeing him running in their neighborhood, should be arrested now before a grand jury decides whether to indict them – as often happens in criminal cases.
“These men were vigilantes, they were a posse, and they performed a modern lynching in the middle of the day,” said Lee Merritt, an attorney for Arbery’s mother.
Politicians, athletes and celebrities joined the public outcry over the killing.
Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, said Arbery was “killed in cold blood” and called for a “swift, full, and transparent investigation into his murder”.
NBA star LeBron James tweeted: “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?!?!?!?!?!?”
The California senator and former Democratic presidential candidate Kamala Harris said on Twitter the video “sickens me to my core”.
“Exercising while black shouldn’t be a death sentence,” she said.
In the 36-second video released online on Tuesday, an unidentified person in a car films Arbery jogging towards a white truck parked on the road, where two men stand.
One shot rings out as Arbery disappears off camera, swerving around the truck. Another shot is heard as Arbery struggles back into frame, then comes another shot. Finally, he falls to the ground. Before police made it to Arbery, he was already dead.
According to a police report, the two men, Gregory McMichael, 64, and his son, Travis McMichael, 34, had grabbed their weapons, a .357 Magnum revolver and a shotgun, jumped into a truck and began following Arbery after seeing him run by.
In the video, it appears Arbery is running in the moments leading up to his death.
Gregory McMichael told police that he and his adult son thought Arbery matched the description of someone caught on a security camera committing a recent break-in in the neighborhood. They armed themselves with guns before getting in a truck to pursue him.
Arbery was not armed and was not considered a suspect in any burglaries.
A phone number listed for Gregory McMichael has been disconnected. The Associated Press could not immediately find a phone listing for Travis McMichael.
Georgia law says a person can kill in self-defense “only if he or she reasonably believes that such force is necessary to prevent death or great bodily injury … or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony”. The law also says a person who provokes an attack or acts as “the aggressor” can’t claim self-defense.
According to the police report, the father said his son, Travis McMichael, got out of the truck holding a shotgun, and claimed that Arbery “began to violently attack”. He claimed Arbery was shot as the two men fought over the shotgun.
Merritt, the attorney for Arbery’s mother, said the justice department should also investigate the death as a hate crime.
“The FBI has said it’s assisting,” said a DoJ spokesman, Matt Lloyd, “and as is standard protocol we look forward to working with them should information come to light of a potential federal violation.”
The Republican governor, Brian Kemp, threw his support behind that inquiry late on Tuesday. He tweeted: “Georgians deserve answers. State law enforcement stands ready to ensure justice is served.”
Georgia’s attorney general, Chris Carr, also a Republican, spoke out as well.
“Based on the video footage and news reports that I have seen, I am deeply concerned with the events surrounding the shooting of Ahmaud Arbery,” Carr said in a statement. “I expect justice to be carried out as swiftly as possible.”
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