U.S. DOJ Investigation of Ahmaud Arbery’s Case May not Yield Justice

Image by Johnny Silvercloud, licensed under Creative Commons.

Just days after a video surfaced of what Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms called a “lynching of an African American man,” the criminal case against suspected killers Gregory and Travis McMichael may be turned over to the United States Department of Justice. 

On May 10, at 8:30 Eastern Standard Time, CNN reported that the Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr has formally requested an investigation by the DOJ. 

Mr. Ahmaud Arbery was shot and killed while jogging alongside a road in Brunswick, Georgia on February 23, 2020. Since then, two local prosecutors have recused themselves, citing connections to Gregory McMichael in previous prosecutions. 

A second video of Mr. Arbery has surfaced, which has been cited as raising suspicion of Mr. Arbery’s actions. The actions do not, however, appear to justify the lethal action taken by the McMichaels. 

Under Georgia Code § 16-7-1, a person commits a felony burglary when they enter a dwelling without authority and have the intent to commit a felony inside. And a private citizen may only make a citizen’s arrest if they have witnessed a felony take place and the suspect is fleeing.

The video appears to show Mr. Arbery simply walking around the construction site, without committing any crime therein. 

While Attorney General Carr has cited his commitment “to a complete and transparent review” of Mr. Arbery’s case, the decision to turn the investigation over to the DOJ is concerning.

The U.S. Department of Justice has a baffling history of declining to press charges against people shooting innocent black men. 

In September 2019, the FBI and DOJ did not press charges against Sacramento police officers who shot and killed Stephon Clark, a black man who was in his grandmother’s backyard. Officers fired over 20 rounds at Mr. Clark, and they shortly after resumed active duty.

In July 2019, U.S. Attorney General William Barr ordered that all charges be dropped against Daniel Pantaleo, the NYPD officer responsible for killing Eric Garner, a black man in New York. The officer was not indicted on local charges.

On March 1, 2019, the DOJ declined to pursue civil rights charges against a police officer who shot and killed Terence Crutcher, a black man who had his hands on his head. The officer was acquitted on local charges.

In September 2017, the DOJ refused to charge the Baltimore police officers responsible for the death of Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old black man. All of the police were acquitted on local charges

U.S. Attorney General William Barr does not appear interested in making tough decisions while at the helm of the DOJ. Two days ago, he again baffled legal experts by dropping the case against Michael Flynn – a clear act of putting political fealties over justice.

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