Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms on Sunday called the shooting death of an unarmed African American jogger a “lynching” and said arrests of two accused men would not have been made if there was not video of the incident.
“It’s heartbreaking that it’s 2020 and this was a lynching of an African American man,” Bottoms said of Ahmaud Arbery’s death on CNN’s Jake Tapper on “State of the Union.”
Arbery, 25, was shot and killed on February 23 while jogging in southern Georgia. Gregory McMichael, 64, and his son, Travis McMichael, 34, were arrested Thursday – three months following the fatal shooting – after a 36-second video that appears to show the incident went viral.
The two white men face charges of murder and aggravated assault in Arbery’s killing. Arbery, a former high school football player, would have turned 26 years old on Friday.
According to a police report, the McMichaels allegedly chased Arbery down in a pickup truck, believing he was a suspect in a string of burglaries. Gregory McMichael told police his son shot Arbery after the latter allegedly attacked him as he stood in the road with a shotgun.
Although Gregory McMichael has claimed Arbery looked like a suspect in a string of recent burglaries, Glynn County Police Lt. Cheri Bashlor told CNN last week just one automobile burglary in the neighborhood was reported when a 9 mm pistol was stolen January 1 from an unlocked truck outside the McMichaels’ home.
Marcus Arbery Sr. also has likened his son’s killing to a modern-day lynching.
“Anytime you pursue a young man, go jump in a truck with shotguns and a pistol … and you follow him and slaughter him like that, that’s lynching,” he said.
Bottoms said she believes the arrests would not have been made had video of the shooting not surfaced. CNN has not verified who recorded the video – taken by someone in a vehicle that pulls up behind a pickup truck stopped in the road – but it captured events that match numerous accounts of the shooting.
“I think that’s absolutely the reason that they were charged. I think had we not seen that video, I don’t believe that they would be charged,” Bottoms said. The Democrat also said Arbery’s death is a bigger issue that extends beyond the state of Georgia.
“With the rhetoric we hear coming out of the White House in so many ways, I think that many who are prone to being racist are given permission to do it in an overt way that we otherwise would not see in 2020,” she said. “In cities across this country, even if local leadership fails, there was always the backstop of our Justice Department to step in and make sure people are appropriately prosecuted. But we don’t have that leadership at the top right now. It’s disheartening.”
She continued, “I think it speaks to the need to have leadership at the top that cares for all of our communities and not just in words but in deeds as well.”
On Monday, Justice Department spokeswoman Kerri Kupec announced that the DOJ is “assessing all of the evidence” in the case to determine whether federal hate crime charges are appropriate.
“In addition, we are considering the request of the Attorney General of Georgia and have asked that he forward to federal authorities any information that he has about the handling of the investigation,” Kupec said. “We will continue to assess all information, and we will take any appropriate action that is warranted by the facts and the law.”
CNN has reached out to the White House for response to Bottoms’ comments.
President Donald Trump on Friday called video of the shooting “very disturbing.”
“I saw the tape and it’s very, very disturbing, the tape,” Trump said during a phone interview with Fox News. “I got to see it, it’s very disturbing.”
“I will say that looks like a really good young guy,” the President said of Arbery. “It’s a very disturbing situation to me and my heart goes out to the parents and the family and the friends, but yet we have to take it, law enforcement is going to look at it.”
This story has been updated to include a response from the Justice Department.