Three face federal hate crime charges in death of Ahmaud Arbery

It’s been a while since we’ve heard anything new coming from the shooting of Ahmaud Arbery in Glynn County, Georgia last winter. There were state murder charges filed against both of the McMichaels shortly after the story went viral and the police eventually charged William “Roddie” Bryan, the guy who “followed” Arbery in his truck and filmed the shooting. All three pleaded not guilty and not much has happened since then aside from a denial of their requests to be released on bail in November. There’s another hearing scheduled for next month when the judge will review additional motions that have been filed.

There were claims being made fairly early on that the U.S. Department of Justice was investigating the case as a possible hate crime. That turned out to be true it seems since we learned yesterday that all three of the men are now facing federal hate crime charges. (Associated Press)

The Justice Department brought federal hate crimes charges Wednesday in the death of Ahmaud Arbery, charging a father and son who armed themselves, chased and fatally shot the 25-year-old Black man after spotting him running in their Georgia neighborhood.

Travis McMichael and his father, Gregory, were charged along with a third man, William “Roddie” Bryan, with one count of interference with civil rights and attempted kidnapping. The McMichaels are also charged with using, carrying and brandishing a firearm during a crime of violence.

The case is the most significant civil rights prosecution undertaken to date by the Biden administration Justice Department and comes as federal officials have moved quickly to open sweeping investigations into troubled police departments as civil rights takes center stage among the department’s priorities.

In the past, I’ve been rather skeptical of some of the federal investigations being launched into entire police departments following a lethal use of force situation involving minority suspects. Some police shootings are justified, if tragic, while others may indeed turn out to be cases of a cop simply going rogue and needing to be held accountable. But trying to “reform” an entire department over the actions of a few officers (or even just one) generally seems to weaken public safety rather than enhance it.

That simply may not be the case in this part of Georgia, however. When we first started looking deeply into the situation last year, I asked the question, what the heck has been going on in Glynn County? I had interviewed a few of the players down there and was contacted by a resident of the county who directed me to a number of shady things going on in that department. It turns out that the cops there had been doing quite a bit of killing under dubious circumstances, including the deaths of Caroline Small, as well as Katie Kettles and John Hall. Corruption charges were regularly filed against police officers and even some of the local judges. If we’ve ever discovered a place in need of some impartial investigation it would appear to be Glynn County.

The new hate crime charges will take a while to wind their way through the courts. In the meantime, we still have to get through the initial murder trials for the McMichaels and Roddie Bryan. We don’t have a date yet, but it’s been almost a year since they were arrested so the legal wrangling has to be near an end. But despite all of the evidence, including videos, will prosecutors be able to seat an entire jury that would be willing to convict all three men?

The video evidence doesn’t show the actual moment of the shooting and the younger McMichael still maintains that Arbery was the aggressor and he was defending himself. If the jury contains anyone who might tend to give a (former) law enforcement officer the benefit of the doubt, I could actually see all three of them walking. The rest of the supporting evidence clearly suggests, at least to me, that this was just a flat-out case of three people chasing down and shooting a guy who was legitimately out jogging, but that’s for the jury to decide.