Editor’s Note: Joey Jackson is a legal analyst for CNN and HLN, and the founder of New York City-based Joey Jackson Law, PLLC, The J. Jackson Firm. The views expressed in this commentary are his own. Read more opinion on CNN.
When Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year-old African American man, went out for a jog in Brunswick, Georgia, on February 23 he could not have known that doing so would lead to his death. His killing raises a host of troubling concerns in a country where jogging while black must be added to the outrageous list of hazards facing black men.
Arbery’s death has made headlines since the release of a gruesome video earlier this week showing a former police officer and his son confronting him – a confrontation that ended with Arbery being shot and killed.
After intense pressure from the community and outrage from civil rights activists across the country, the people allegedly responsible for Arbery’s death have only now been arrested. This delay is patently unacceptable, and raises multiple questions.
First, how did an unarmed black man, whose family said was out for an afternoon jog, end up being shot to death? Second, how did George E. Barnhill, one of the district attorneys previously assigned to the case from the neighboring city of Waycross, dare to claim just one day after the shooting that he believed the father and son’s stated attempt to make a citizen’s arrest was “perfectly legal” – in the same memo that he also used to recuse himself from the case? Third, since when does a prosecutor take the word of the suspects in a case in making the ultimate decision as to whether they committed a crime? And finally, how fair and appropriate is it for a prosecutor to apply the “citizen’s arrest” and “stand your ground” laws so liberally in an effort to forego prosecution?
While there is an ongoing investigation, the facts known so far about the conduct of 34-year-old Travis McMichael, and his father, Gregory McMichael, 64, are beyond troubling. According to the police report, Gregory McMichael, a former Glynn County Police officer, told police that they were pursuing Arbery because they thought he was a suspect in a recent string of break-ins in the community.
In fact, only one incident in the neighborhood had been reported to police before the shooting took place: that of a 9 mm weapon being stolen from an unlocked truck at the McMichaels’ home on January 1.
But on February 23, someone in Satilla Shores called 911 to say “a black male running down the street” – Arbery – might be responsible for a rash of burglaries.
The disturbing 36-second video of the McMichaels’ confrontation with Arbery shows Gregory McMichael in the bed of a pickup truck stopped on a residential street, and Travis McMichael standing near the driver’s side door with a shotgun.
Arbery is seen running toward the truck, and then veering to the right to go around it. Once at the pickup’s front end, Arbery darts to the left, toward Travis McMichael. They appear to struggle in front of the truck, although much of the view is blocked by the truck, and then are seen grappling beside the truck and off camera, before they come back into view as the sound of three gunshots are heard. Arbery then crumples to the ground.
As an initial matter, a citizen’s arrest cannot be made unless a crime is committed in the presence of the citizen trying to make the arrest or unless the citizen has “immediate knowledge” of a crime.
It’s possible the McMichaels thought they had such knowledge. They may have been alerted by the owner of a home under construction in the neighbo