Eight Years After Trayvon Martin, Ahmaud Arbery Is Chased and Killed in “Self-Defense”

Updated 05.07.20

Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year-old Black man, was shot and killed by a white man in Brunswick, Georgia, on February 23—three days before the anniversary of the 2012 killing of Trayvon Martin. The shooter and his father were arrested today after protests focused on the fact that no charges had been brought against the men.

Mr. Arbery was a high school football star who regularly ran to keep fit, The New York Times reported last week. The Times reviewed police and prosecutor files and interviewed Mr. Arbery’s friends and family, who said he was out jogging that Sunday afternoon.

A police report says Mr. Arbery passed Gregory McMichael, a 64-year-old white former police officer and retired investigator for the Brunswick district attorney’s office who was standing in his front yard. Mr. McMichael later told police he thought Mr. Arbery looked like the suspect in a string of break-ins.

He called out to his son, Travis McMichael, 34, and the two men armed themselves with a .357 magnum and a shotgun, got into a pickup truck with a third man, and chased Mr. Arbery, trying to cut him off and yelling, “Stop, stop, we want to talk to you.”

They pulled up to Mr. Arbery and Travis McMichael got out of the truck with the shotgun. After a struggle over the gun, he fired three shots, killing Mr. Arbery, who was not armed. Neither Travis nor Gregory McMichael was arrested until May 7.

Racial Profiling and Stand Your Ground Laws

Mr. Arbery’s killing echoes the shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, who was shot and killed in his Florida neighborhood on his way home from buying candy by George Zimmerman, an armed neighbor who saw him as “suspicious” and dangerous and pursued him. Police initially declined to arrest Zimmerman under Florida’s “stand your ground” law, which broadens a person’s right to use deadly force when in fear of harm.

“Stand Your Ground” laws can prove deadly for people of color, especially young Black men, who are seen as inherently or presumptively threatening based on their race.

The prosecutor assigned to Mr. Arbery’s shooting concluded that the McMichaels were legally carrying their guns under Georgia’s open carry law and were within their rights to chase Mr. Arbery under the citizen’s arrest statute. Relying on Gregory McMichael’s statement and a cellphone video, he wrote in a letter to the Glynn County Police Department that Mr. Arbery initiated the struggle by trying to take the shotgun from Travis McMichael.

And he suggested the two armed white men were right to be suspicious and afraid of Mr. Arbery because he had an “aggressive nature” and prior convictions—which the Times reports were for shoplifting and a probation violation. He concluded that Travis McMichael was “allowed to use deadly force to protect himself” under Georgia’s “stand your ground” law and should not be arrested or charged for killing Mr. Arbery.

Protest Stifled by Pandemic

Although the shooting of Mr. Arbery raises the same questions about racial profiling and “Stand Your Ground” self-defense laws, it hasn’t garnered the same attention as Trayvon Martin’s killing—which sparked shock, outrage, and action across the state of Florida and the nation. Social distancing and stay-at-home orders in response to the Covid-19 pandemic have restricted would-be demonstrators to organizing online.

“There are a lot of people absolutely ready to protest,” Jason Vaughn, a football coach at Brunswick High School who coached Mr. Arbery, told The New York Times. “But because of social distancing and being safe, we have to watch what’s going on with the coronavirus.”

After Mr. Arbery’s family pointed out that the local DA had a conflict of interest, a new prosecutor, Tom Durden, was assigned to decide whether to present the case to a grand jury for possible indictments. Mr. Vaughn told the Times that activists plan to make the hour-long drive to Mr. Durden’s office, mark off spots on the sidewalk to maintain social distancing, and enter the building one at a time to ask why the men who chased down and killed Mr. Arbery have not been arrested.

Protests in Georgia prompted outrage and concern from figures as diverse as former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., the basketball star LeBron James, and Russell Moore, a prominent leader of the Southern Baptist Convention, The New York Times reported. Today, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation said in a statement that Travis McMichael fired the shot that killed Mr. Arbery and announced that both Gregory and Travis McMichael had been taken into custody and charged with aggravated assault in addition to murder.