Why Is Ahmaud Arbery’s Murder in the News?

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Over the past few days, the name Ahmaud Arbery and the hashtag #IRunWithMaud have flooded social media. This social media storm followed a major news channel appearance last Sunday by Arbery’s mother, Wanda Cooper, in which she voiced doubts about the circumstances of her son’s death. At the time of Cooper’s interview, neither of the two men being investigated in regards to Arbery’s death had been arrested. After video footage of Arbery’s death emerged later in the week, both men under investigation were arrested and charged with murder.

On Thursday night, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) announced that Gregory McMichael, 64, and his son Travis McMichael, 34, had been arrested and charged with the murder and aggravated assault of Ahmaud Arbery. In the graphic video footage released shortly after Wanda Cooper’s interview, the McMichaels are seen confronting Arbery while he was jogging in Brunswick, Georgia on February 23. The video, filmed on a cellphone, depicts Arbery being shot twice with a shotgun. Arbery, who was 25 years old when this incident took place, is seen collapsing from his wounds, which ultimately killed him.

The cellphone video of Arbery’s death first began circulating on social media after a radio station posted it on Tuesday. Soon after, demands for criminal charges against Gregory and Travis McMichael flooded social media. Much of this outrage came from politicians, athletes, and celebrities, putting extra pressure on the GBI to investigate Arbery’s death. The GBI thus tasked three supervisory-level agents with the investigation, and not even three days later, both men were arrested.

In the video, Arbery is seen jogging along Satilla Drive in the Brunswick neighborhood of Satilla Shores. As Arbery jogs toward a pickup truck stopped in the middle of the street, Travis and Gregory McMichael confront him. Travis and Arbery are then seen struggling over a shotgun, and three shots are fired in seven seconds (including one that preceded the confrontation between Travis and Arbery). As Arbery tries to flee, he collapses.

Although the video does not clearly depict which of the two men fired the shots that killed Arbery, Gregory McMichael told local police that Travis shot Arbery twice. Glynn County police documents indicate that the McMichaels claimed that they had chased Arbery because they suspected him in a series of local burglaries. Additional Glynn County police documents pointed to only one car burglary in 2020 prior to Arbery’s death.

News of the arrests of Gregory and Travis McMichael arrived shortly before a national day of actions devoted to commemorating Ahmaud Arbery and bringing attention to his assailants. On May 8, Arbery would have turned 26, and since he was known in the Satilla Shores neighborhood for running often, his high school football coach, Jason Vaughn, started the #IRunWithMaud trend. Vaughn has asked those who want Gregory and Travis McMichael brought to justice to run 2.23 miles, a distance chosen since Arbery was killed on February 23 (2/23), and post about it on social media using the #IRunWithMaud hashtag. Currently, running to demand justice may be safer than more traditional forms of protests: Due to COVID-19, social distancing mandates remain in place throughout much of the U.S., so running may be one of few safe ways to enjoy the outdoors – and effectively demand change – amidst stay-at-home orders.

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