SAVANNAH, Ga. (AP) – When white men armed with guns chased and killed Ahmaud Arbery as he ran through their neighborhood, few outside the port city of Brunswick, Georgia, gave notice in the days and weeks that followed.
A year later, those closest to the 25-year-old black man want to make sure his death isn’t overlooked again as three men await trial while Arbery is killed on February 23, 2020.
A memorial procession led by Arbery’s family was scheduled for Tuesday evening through the Satilla Shores subdivision, where he fell bleeding into the street from close range from three shotguns. The organizers asked supporters outside of Braunschweig to take part in a virtual 3.59 kilometer run reminiscent of Arbery, an avid runner whose family claims he was jogging when he was killed.
“It’s important to remind people of the origins of when it all began,” said Jason Vaughn, Arbery’s high school football coach and organizer of the anniversary events. “For a long time it was like screaming into the dark and no one was listening.”
Immediately after the shooting, police interviewed Arbery’s killer and two other people involved in the persecution and released them. The first prosecutor in charge of the case saw no reason to bring charges. Appeals for justice by Arbery’s family went largely unheard as Georgia and the nation entered lockdown over the coronavirus pandemic.
Arbery had been dead for more than two months when a national outcry broke out after cell phone video of the May 5 shooting leaked online. The Georgia Bureau of Investigation took the case the next day and quickly arrested shooter Travis McMichael, his father Greg McMichael, and neighbor Roddie Bryan for murder.
Outrage over Arbery’s killing still subsided when a Minneapolis police officer killed George Floyd on May 25 and sparked protests in the United States denouncing racial injustices.
In Braunschweig, Arbery’s death was a wake-up call for many black and white residents to be more active in bringing elected officials to justice, Rev. John Perry said. At the time of the murder he was president of the NAACP chapter in Braunschweig. Now he’s running to the city’s next mayor.
“We used to elect people to office and just trust they were doing the right thing,” Perry said. “Failure to bring justice to the Ahmaud situation said we should do more as citizens.”
In November, voters angry with Arbery’s death ousted District Attorney Jackie Johnson. Greg McMichael had worked as an investigator for Johnson, who had excluded their office from handling the case. Many accused Johnson of playing a role in the late arrests, an allegation she denies.
Meanwhile, Republican Governor Brian Kemp is urging Georgian lawmakers to all but eliminate an 1863 state law giving private individuals the power to make arrests. The prosecutor, who was first responsible for the Arbery case, argued that the law to bring the murder to an end was justified.
The lawyers for all three men charged in the case insist that they have not committed any crimes. McMichaels’ attorneys said they tracked Arbery and suspected he was a burglar after security cameras previously recorded him entering a house under construction. It is said that Travis McMichael shot Arbery in fear for his life when they clung to a shotgun. It was Bryan, the third defendant, who took the cell phone video of the shooting from the driver’s seat of his pickup truck.
Prosecutors said Arbery did not steal anything and only went jogging when the McMichaels and Bryan were chasing him. You remain locked in with no bond.
The anniversary march and commemoration run were organized by the 2:23 Foundation, a group formed by Vaughn and Arbery’s cousin Demetris Frazier to fight systemic racism.
The foundation registered 18-year-old schoolchildren to vote last fall. Now its members and other local activists are campaigning for the establishment of a citizenship screening body for the Glynn County Police Department, which handled the initial response to Arbery’s murder.
Vaughn, who coached Arbery at Brunswick High School, said planning for the anniversary was exhausting. To him, Arbery’s murder remains painfully fresh.
“You want to make sure you keep Ahmaud’s name alive, but it’s like reading an obituary over and over,” Vaughn said. “It’s like reliving the past. You have to stay strong. “
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