The Georgia Bureau of Investigations announced on Thursday that two suspects were arrested and charged in connection with the murder of Ahmaud Arbery. The news comes days after a leaked video showed the savage killing of the would-be 26-year-old avid jogger in the Georgia suburb of Brunswick’s Satilla Shores.
“On May 7, 2020, the GBI arrested Gregory McMichael, age 64, and Travis McMichael, age 34, for the death of Ahmaud Arbery,” the statement from GBI reads. “The McMichaels were taken into custody and will be booked into the Glynn County Jail.”
The McMichaels arrest comes more than two months after the father and son vigilantes murdered Arbery in cold blood. On February 23, the former high school athlete was said to be taking a Sunday run in a nearby neighborhood when the McMichaels tracked him down, then shot him to death. The duo then spent more than two months as free men.
This week the leaked footage of the McMichaels’ offense triggered an explosive reaction on Twitter and in the Georgia area where Arbery was killed. In an interview with ESSENCE Executive Digital Producer Kirsten Savali West, family attorney S. Lee Merritt said that the video that sent shockwaves through social media was purposely obscured. “We knew that it existed,” Merritt shares.
Since February the family has been pressing Georgia authorities to hold the McMichaels accountable for Arbery’s death, even putting into writing that they desired a copy of the video. It was denied. Though Merritt maintains that the footage confirms what those close to the case already knew, he says, “It adds an evil element.”
Gregory Michael’s career in law enforcement has muddied the waters in Arbery’s murder case. Since his death, two prosecutors were forced to recuse themselves, and a third, Tom Durden, was slow to recommend a grand jury to try the case. Even with the McMichaels now arrested, Merritt says, “We cannot allow their friends to prosecute them.” The family is pushing for a special prosecutor to be assigned to the case. Otherwise, they believe the men involved will avoid accountability. “The legal system is not designed to hold them accountable,” Merritt laments.
In addition to the murder and aggravated assault charges brought against the McMichaels, Merritt, speaking on behalf of Arbery’s family, said he wants the prosecution to consider a federal hate crime charge given the gruesome nature of the modern-day lynching. “It is not enough just to see these videos and get upset for a little while,” Merritt says. “We have to force them to hold people accountable.”
Though Arbery’s mother has not been able to watch the video, Merritt shares, Wanda Cooper is very clear that she wants justice served and will continue to push for accountability in her son’s murder. “I think justice looks like all of the men involved in this murder going to jail for a significant amount of time,” says Merritt. “Obviously the shooter should be in jail for the rest of this life.”