Get ready for another massive national convulsion over race. It will be just like Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, and Freddie Gray. This time, the dead black man is Ahmaud Arbery, age 25. The whites who shot him are Gregory McMichael, age 64, and his son, Travis McMichael, 34.
There is no presumption of innocence. Joe Biden tweeted that “Ahmaud Arbery was killed in cold blood.” Elizabeth Warren says that what happened is “sickening.” Ilhan Omar is quite sure that Arbery “was lynched. Killed in cold blood simply for being a Black man in America.” Kamala Harris tweeted that the killing “sickens me to my core.” The president of the Georgia NAACP says, “The modern-day lynching of Mr. Arbery is yet another reminder of the vile and wicked racism that persists in parts of our country.” Even National Review just ran an article called, “The Murder of Ahmaud Arbery.”
The two white men’s addresses are now splashed across the internet and, as this lad notes, “Street gets its revenge always. This guy and his son gone be dead soon enough. And I’ll gladly praise that day.”
So, what happened? Unlike previous celebrated “modern lynchings,” at least some of the police findings are public. Their lives may be ruined, but there is good reason to think that what Gregory and Travis McMichael did was perfectly legal.
The father, Gregory McMichael, is a former police officer and investigator for the district attorney. He lived close to a new building under construction where there had been break-ins and trespassing. Mr. McMichael had reportedly seen surveillance video of a black man trespassing. He says that on February 23, he saw a black man — who turned out to be Arbery — “hauling ass” down the street, and thought he looked like the man in the video. He and his son armed themselves and followed in a pickup truck, hoping to hold him until the police came. A friend named Bryan William followed in a second vehicle and took cellphone video. The McMichaels drove ahead of Arbery and stopped in the street.
What happened next is on this short video, and is consistent with what the McMichaels told police. They shouted at Arbery to stop because they wanted to talk to him. They say Arbery ran around the pickup and attacked Travis, the younger McMichael, who was holding a shotgun. There were three shotgun blasts as Travis and Arbery struggled for the weapon, and Arbery died at the scene.
The video recently became public, and proves that people can see the same images and see things that are completely different. George Barnhill, a Georgia DA who investigated the killing, has written a public letter summarizing his findings. He wrote that the three white men “were following, in ‘hot pursuit’, a burglary suspect, with solid first hand probable cause, in their neighborhood, and asking/telling him to stop. . . . to stop and hold this criminal suspect until law enforcement arrived.” He added, “Under Georgia Law this is perfectly legal.” He also noted that the McMichaels were legally armed. There may be other reasons besides the surveillance video to think the McMichaels had “first-hand probably cause,” but details are not yet available.
Mr. Barnhill, whose investigation included an autopsy report, reconstructed the struggle between Travel McMichael and Arbery as follows:
The 1st shot is through Arbery’s right hand palm which is consistent with him grabbing and pulling the shotgun at the barrel tip, the 2nd and 3rd wounds are consistent with the struggle for the shotgun as depicted in the video . . . . Given the fact Arbery initiated the fight, at the point Arbery grabbed the shotgun, under Georgia Law, McMichael was allowed to use deadly force to protect himself. Just as importantly, while we know McMichael had his finger on the trigger, we do not know who caused the firings. Arbery would only had to pull the shotgun approximately 1/16th to 1/8th of one inch to fire the weapon himself and in the height of an altercation this is entirely possible. Arbery’s mental health records & prior convictions help explain his apparent aggressive nature and his possible thought pattern to attack an armed man.
Arbery appears to have had a shoplifting conviction and to have brought a gun to a school illegally and resisted arrest, but it’s not clear what Mr. Barnhill meant by “mental health records.” The DA concluded that he saw no reason to arrest the men, adding that it would be up to a grand jury to hand down an indictment.
A black lawyer named Lee Merritt, who is representing the Arbery family, watched the same video and reached a different conclusion: “Mr. Arbery was pursued by three white men that targeted him solely because of his race and murdered him without justification. . . . [T]hese men must be taken into custody pending their indictment.”
DA Barnhill has recused himself from the investigation because of previous law-enforcement work with Gregory McMichael. The outside prosecutor now assigned to the case, Tom Durden, says he will take the case to the grand jury as soon as the Georgia courts end their virus shutdown. The Georgia Bureau of Investigation will also investigate.
What will happen next? Let us not forget that blacks rioted in Ferguson, Missouri, when a grand jury refused to indict the white officer, Darren Wilson, who shot Michael Brown. I think therefore it is a near certainly that Gregory and Travis McMichael will be charged with murder. They can’t risk a plea bargain because in a superheated case like this, even admitting to involuntary manslaughter will mean years in jail.
A trial could be as sensational as the Trayvon Martin case — and could turn out the same. To get a conviction, the prosecutor will have to prove guilt “beyond a reasonable doubt.” Based on the facts as they appear now — and under current Georgia law — that may not be easy. There could be another spectacular acquittal that brings howls of fury and dismay.
Whatever happens, there are many ironies here. First, all the people who are calling this a “lynching” and are screaming for punishment are, themselves, acting like a lynch mob. As now-recused DA Barnhill wrote to journalists, “People need to let the American criminal justice system work. After it is completed all of the facts and evidence will be available for the public to review.” There is no chance of that.
Second, people who hate white people — and especially white police — will trumpet this as yet another example of “open season on black men,” as if white police officers and private citizens are on the prowl for innocent black men to shoot. This is foolishness, but the media — as they are in this case — promote it tirelessly. It takes an inquiring mind to discover that a black person is nearly 30 times more likely to attack a white person than vice versa, and that police killings of blacks account for about 0.6 percent of all homicides of blacks, justified or not. Recent studies find that white officers are no more likely than black officers to shoot black suspects.
Ahmaud Arbery probably didn’t know these facts. All this reckless talk of “open season” could very well have convinced him that he would be shot no matter what he did. Instead of stopping to talk, he appears to have charged a man with a shotgun. He would surely be alive today if he had not attacked.
But the facts don’t matter; all that matters is a chance to accuse whites of racism, and many whites get just as wild a thrill out of this as blacks.
Third, Gregory and Travis McMichael have just learned what “white privilege” means. It is only because they are white and the dead man is black that the whole world knows their names. I suspect that most of the people who see this video as proof of first-degree murder would see it as justifiable self defense if this were not one of those rare acts of white-on-black violence that we are supposed to think are so common.
A society that promotes the notion of “white privilege” is admitting the opposite: Whites will always be scrutinized for “racism,” will never get the benefit of the doubt, will always be assumed guilty, and will always be held to higher and even impossible standards.
Controversies like this are inevitable when whites and blacks try to live together. Life in a multiracial society is always full of tension and conflict. In “white supremacist” America, “white privilege” means contempt and persecution. And it will get only worse.