U.S. prosecutors on Wednesday charged three white men in federal Georgia with hate crimes and attempted to kidnap Ahmaud Arbery, a black man who was shot while jogging through a suburban neighborhood, last year.
The Justice Department announced that former police officer Gregory McMichael, 65, his son Travis McMichael, 35 and William “Roddie” Bryan, 51, have been charged with a number of rights violations and a number of kidnapping attempts.
Travis and Gregory McMichael were also charged with firearm violence in the fatal shooting on Arbery on February 23, 2020, which his family’s lawyers condemned as vigilante murder, amounting to a lynching.
President Joe Biden’s administration, since his inauguration three months ago, has stepped up enforcement of federal civil rights laws, objected by activists and neglected during the presidency of his predecessor Donald Trump.
The McMichaels and Bryan are already charged with murder, aggravated assault, wrongful imprisonment, and the criminal attempt to commit a crime, although a trial date has not yet been set.
Nonetheless, civil rights activists accused authorities of being slow to seek justice in the case after no arrests were made 10 weeks after the incident and only after video footage of the shooting surfaced on social media, sparking public outrage over the killing stoked.
The McMichaels told local police that they suspected Arbery was implicated in a number of neighborhood break-ins when they saw him running through town and said they followed him in their pickup truck to arrest a citizen .
The video showed Arbery jogging down a dual carriageway and then being shot and killed with a rifle when confronted by two armed men who stopped picking them up on his way.
A Georgia Bureau of Investigation agent testified in court last year that Bryan said under questioning that he overheard Travis McMichael while Arbery was dead on the scene.
Bryan had come forward as the man who recorded the killing on his cellphone and turned the footage over to investigators before it went viral in May 2020.
Weeks later came an infamous video of George Floyd, an unarmed black man who was arrested in Minneapolis on suspicion of handing a fake $ 20 bill. He died lying in the street with his neck tied under the knee of a white policeman.
Arbery’s case, along with the high-profile law enforcement murders of Floyd and other African Americans, helped fuel months of nationwide protests against racial injustice and police brutality in the United States.
A jury in Minneapolis on April 20 convicted former officer Derek Chauvin of the murder of Floyd’s death.
Bryan’s attorney said his client was merely a spectator and witness of the Arbery shooting.
“Roddie Bryan has committed no crime. We look forward to a fair and expeditious trial and to the day Mr. Bryan will be released and reunited with his family.”
The McMichaels attorneys were not immediately available to comment on the federal allegations.
Civil rights attorney Ben Crump, who represents Arbery’s family, hailed the filing of federal charges as “an important milestone in America’s rise to racial justice,” and we applaud the Justice Department for treating this heinous act for what it is – a purely evil one , racially motivated hate crime. “
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