Feds weighing possible hate crime charges in Ahmaud Arbery case

How can the feds have jurisdiction over a killing that happened in Georgia, you ask? I assume it’s because of this 2009 addition to the federal penal code, which allows the DOJ to get involved in possible hate-crime cases where “the State has requested that the Federal Government assume jurisdiction.” That’s what Georgia’s attorney general did this morning. His thinking, I’m guessing, is that this case has already been an out-and-out sh*tshow as handled by local authorities and the AG wants to make sure that racial tensions don’t rise further in case the state continues to mishandle it. They’re better off handing it to Bill Barr and the DOJ.

Except that Barr’s DOJ is also highly suspect in the eyes of Democrats. If the feds take the case and can’t get a conviction, Trump will be pummeled for having blown it. Why would the president, and Barr, assume that risk? On the other hand, if Barr declines to take the case, Trump will pummeled for supposedly not taking the killing seriously.

On the other hand, if Barr and his team prosecute the case successfully, that’s a nice political feather in the president’s cap ahead of the election. Hmmmm.

The feds don’t need an invitation from the state to get involved. The 2009 statute also permits federal intervention where “a prosecution by the United States is in the public interest and necessary to secure substantial justice.” Question for legal eagles, though: Don’t they need hard evidence of racist motive to make a charge like this stick? I’m guessing it can’t be enough that Ahmaud’s death resembled a lynching, which it did, with an armed posse of white men cornering a black man accused of a crime without evidence. Here’s what the statute says:

(1) Offenses involving actual or perceived race, color, religion, or national origin.—Whoever, whether or not acting under color of law, willfully causes bodily injury to any person or, through the use of fire, a firearm, a dangerous weapon, or an explosive or incendiary device, attempts to cause bodily injury to any person, because of the actual or perceived race, color, religion, or national origin of any person—

(A) shall be imprisoned not more than 10 years, fined in accordance with this title, or both; and
(B) shall be imprisoned for any term of years or for life, fined in accordance with this title, or both, if—
(i) death results from the offense; or
(ii) the offense includes kidnapping or an attempt to kidnap, aggravated sexual abuse or an attempt to commit aggravated sexual abuse, or an attempt to kill.

There’s a lot riding on the words “because of.” We can suspect why the McMichaels viewed Arbery as a threat so dangerous that he had to be confronted with firearms, but suspecting it and getting to beyond a reasonable doubt are two different things. From Barr’s standpoint, why take a highly visible case where solid evidence of racist motive may not exist and risk blowing it when state prosecutors can probably nail them with life sentences based on the plain facts as we know them, without question of their motivation?

Besides, the state prosecution is now being led by someone whose role should help ease some of the racial tensions here. Cobb County D.A. Joyette Holmes is taking over. She’s a former judge, a black woman, and a Republican, appointed by Brian Kemp. Arbery’s parents sound satisfied to have her handling the case, per a statement issued by their attorney. I think Barr’s going to end up passing and letting her handle it.

Here’s a report from ABC last night about the surveillance video of Arbery that Jazz wrote about yesterday — plus some more video of someone visiting the same construction site at night earlier this year. Pay close attention at 1:35. Apparently that’s the very footage that the McMichaels saw that made them think Arbery was a burglar. But it doesn’t look like him to my eye; the suspect’s skin is lighter. And obviously, between the blurred-out face and the significant arm tattoos, it’d be easy for someone who knew Arbery to tell if that’s him. His family says it isn’t. If they’re right, the McMichaels really did have the wrong man. Nothing was ever stolen from the site, apparently.