Members Only | October 27, 2021 | Reading Time: 3 minutes

As the Ahmaud Arbery murder trial gets underway, remember this. He was lynched. That’s not overstating what happened

Three white men were clearly supremely confident of being afforded every protection by the state of Georgia’s legal apparatus.

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The killing of a 25-year-old, whose only crime was jogging while Black on the “wrong side” of town on the outskirts of Brunswick, Georgia, has been described as a lynching. That’s not for dramatic effect. 

Ahmaud Arbery’s broad daylight killing was akin to a public execution committed by three white men who were clearly supremely confident of being afforded every protection by Georgia’s legal apparatus.

Indeed, we now know Gregory McMichael, one of the accused, is thought to have left a voicemail to former colleague and then-District Attorney Jackie Johnson, on the day Ahmaud died requesting he call her. Johnson never returned the call, but presumably McMichael had contacted Johnson for assurances that he’d have Johnson’s support.


The pickup truck driven by father and son Gregory and Travis McMichael is said to have sported a Confederate themed flag — something the defense will fight to keep from the court during the trial. 


No surprises then, months later, Johnson was arrested for misconduct in connection to Arbery’s killing, accused of preventing police from initially arresting the shooter, Travis McMichael, son of Gregory. 

In fact, it took months for the arrests of the McMichaels and their accomplice William “Roddy” Bryan to eventually be made, and arguably, had the video of Ahmaud’s murder not gone public and viral, Ahmaud’s killers may well have evaded accountability entirely.

As it stands, and as jury selection continues ahead of the trial, the realities of Ahmaud Arbery’s lynching are part of a pattern of a long history of lynchings in Georgia, and of the thousands that have taken place across the country over the years. Ahmaud, unarmed, was chased and hunted by three armed men who had one goal.

The pickup truck driven by father and son Gregory and Travis McMichael is said to have sported a Confederate themed flag — something the defense will fight to keep from the court during the trial. 

Ahmaud, who ran for his life until he could run no more, was eventually trapped by both McMichaels and accomplice Roddy Bryan. Faced with a life or death, Ahmaud bravely chose to defend himself and was killed by two shotgun blasts to his chest, the second at point blank. Immediately after, Gregory McMichael, according to Bryan, stood over Ahmaud and called him the N-word as he lay dying.

Police arriving at the scene did not immediately attend to the dying Ahmaud. One officer can be heard, however, consoling Travis McMichael, saying “If you need to move around, do what you need to do man, I can only imagine.” Also heard in bodycam footage is an officer saying to another officer, “Did he shoot him? A self-defense thing?” which was met with a reply of “That’s what it looks like.”

As was the case throughout the slavery and Jim Crow eras, innocence was immediately presumed on the part of Arbery’s white killers, casting Ahmaud, the unarmed Black victim, as the wrongdoer.


What’s also interesting in the run up to the trial, is that potential jurors were reported to have “accidentally” been given easy access to Ahmaud’s mental health and criminal history.


What’s also interesting in the run up to the trial, is that potential jurors were reported to have “accidentally” been given easy access to Ahmaud’s mental health and criminal history. The judge has since ruled that neither Arbery’s medical records, nor dealings with police can be used as evidence in court. But it’s telling that defense attorneys for the McMichael’s wanted to use the mental health records.

It’s an age-old tactic by white supremacist to blame the victim. The McMichaels defense wants to paint Arbery as an aggressive young Black man, despite Judge Timothy Walmsley stating that, “There is no evidence that the victim was suffering from any mental health issue” at the time he was killed. Those defense attorneys will fight tooth and nail, though, to have Arbery’s private medical history and other personal records heard in court and splashed across the media.

Let’s assume justice is done in this case, and Arbery’s killers spend the rest of their lives behind bars? What next for the country? There’s no serious federal push to root out structural racism within police forces or the ability of card-carrying white supremacists to remain in their ranks. In fact, police have been given more funding. Putting racist killers on trial, even if justice is regularly done, which it is not, is not enough. It doesn’t stop the killings and murders in the first place.

De-incentivising terrorism remands more than jail time. Plenty of people now believe that a specific federal anti-lynching bill needs to become law (as has been unsuccessfully tabled before) in order to add another layer of protection under law for Black people. Please remember, too, there were plenty of cases of Black men last year and in recent years being found dead literally hanging from ropes.

They were ruled suicides, but there’s reason to cast doubt.

As the McMichaels and Roddy Bryan face federal hate-crime charges, America is reminded that there needs to be an anti-Black hate crime law set in place too. Asian-American’s rightly had this law quickly passed to protect their communities. Do it for Black Americans, too.


Richard Sudan covers human rights and American foreign affairs for the Editorial Board. Based in London, his reporting has appeared in The Guardian, Independent and others. Find him @richardsudan.

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