'He died because of skin color': Father of Ahmaud Arbery speaks out on trial

·National Reporter and Producer
·7-min read

The father of Ahmaud Arbery, the 25-year-old Black Georgia man shot to death after being chased by a trio of white pursuers, says he and his family are still struggling to process the tragedy.

“It's still a struggle,” Marcus Arbery told Yahoo News, reliving the horror from last year alongside his attorney, Benjamin Crump.

“He died because of skin color. So that's really, really hard for me and his mom and our family.”

Ahmaud Arbery was shot and killed following a confrontation with Travis McMichael, his father, Gregory McMichael, and their neighbor William “Roddie” Bryan on Feb. 23, 2020, in Brunswick, Ga. The killing was captured on video, and all three men have been charged with Arbery’s murder. They’ve also been charged with violating federal hate-crime laws.

This image from video purports to show Ahmaud Arbery stumbling and falling to the ground after being shot as Travis McMichael stands by holding a shotgun.
This image from video purports to show Ahmaud Arbery stumbling and falling to the ground after being shot as Travis McMichael stands by holding a shotgun, near Brunswick, Ga., on Feb. 23, 2020. (Twitter via AP)

The trial is taking place in Glynn County, where roughly one in four residents is Black. But the jury, which was finalized last week, includes only one Black person alongside 11 white jurors.

The state accused the defense of striking Black jurors based on race. And Judge Timothy Walmsley said that the “court has found that there appears to be intentional discrimination” with regard to the jury selection, although the defense had met the legal standard necessary to dismiss the potential jurors.

The jury selection highlighted issues of race and prejudice that had already been at the forefront of the case.

“I just think about 1955 — Emmett Till — it take you back like that,” Marcus Arbery said. Till, who was 14 years old, was lynched by two Mississippi men who were then acquitted by an all-white jury, sparking protests in the early days of the civil rights movement.

“And I just say, ‘Lord, have mercy.’ But, like attorney Crump said it, the evidence is overwhelming against them, and then we had a video. That gave us a lot of hope there.”

Ahmaud Arbery’s family says he was out for a jog near the Brunswick, Ga., home he shared with his mother when he was chased down by Bryan and the McMichaels. The defendants say they believed Arbery had committed robberies in the area and were attempting to detain him in accordance with a Georgia statute that has since been repealed. Arbery’s slaying also resulted in Georgia’s first hate-crime legislation.

Marcus Arbery with the Rev. Al Sharpton, attorney Benjamin Crump and members of the Floyd family during a public viewing for George Floyd.
Marcus Arbery (center) with the Rev. Al Sharpton (left), attorney Benjamin Crump (right) and members of the Floyd family during a public viewing for George Floyd in Houston on June 8, 2020. (Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP via Getty Images)

“As a father that’s been in his life, all his life ... I know he ain't had to take nothing,” Marcus Arbery said. “And then he was in his jogging clothes, working out all the time, so he couldn't take nothing. Where was he going to put it at?”

According to prosecutors, there is no evidence that Arbery had stolen anything before he was shot and killed.

Crump, a renowned civil rights and personal-injury attorney, has represented families in similar cases. He stood by Sybrina Fulton and Tracy Martin after their son, Trayvon Martin, was killed while walking in his father’s neighborhood in 2012; he represented the Floyd family after a police officer murdered George Floyd in Minneapolis last year; and he joined the fight for Breonna Taylor, who was shot and killed by police in 2020, helping her family win a $12 million settlement, and pushed for the successful passage of “Breonna’s Law.”

Crump believes “all things are possible” and the jury will come to the right conclusion, regardless of its racial makeup.

“When you think about this overwhelming video evidence, audio evidence ... you have the evidence, not only what we see, but what they're saying,” he told Yahoo News. For example, Crump notes that Gregory McMichael told police he threatened to “blow [Arbery’s] f***ing head off.”

“If the roles were reversed and this was a Black father and son chasing an unarmed white man and shooting and killing him, nobody would even question whether they would be convicted of murder.”

Gregory McMichael, 65, told police that he believed Arbery “wasn’t out for no Sunday jog. He was getting the hell out of there.” Along with his son Travis, 35, McMichael armed himself and set out after Arbery.

Their neighbor Roddie Bryan, 52, joined the pursuit in a truck of his own and recorded the encounter on his cellphone. The video shows Arbery running between the vehicles operated by Bryan and the McMichaels and briefly disappearing from view. The roughly half-minute video then shows Arbery in a scuffle with Travis McMichael, who was armed with a shotgun. Arbery collapses after trying to run a few more steps.

Travis McMichael sits with his attorney before the start of the trial for Ahmaud Arbery's shooting death.
Travis McMichael at the trial for Ahmaud Arbery's shooting death at the Glynn County Courthouse in Brunswick, Ga., on Tuesday. (Stephen B. Morton/Pool/Getty Images)

“That is the problem here," Crump said. "Even when the police got on the scene, and I know it was heartbreaking to Marcus Arbery and Wanda Cooper, Ahmaud's parents, when the police get on the scene, you see on the video Ahmaud's legs are still moving. But they don't offer him any medical assistance.”

The first Glynn County police officer to arrive on the scene, Rickey Minshew, testified on Monday that he “didn’t have adequate medical training” to perform lifesaving measures on Arbery. He talked about having to watch his surroundings as the only officer at the scene at the time.

The actions of law enforcement and local prosecutors came under scrutiny in the aftermath of the video’s release. Gregory McMichael is a former Glynn County police officer, and two prosecutors recused themselves from the case due to conflicts of interest.

Arbery was killed in February, but Bryan and the McMichaels were not arrested until after the video was posted to the internet in May.

That outcry for justice continues, with protesters and supporters showing up periodically outside the courthouse as the trial proceeds. On Wednesday, national civil rights activist Al Sharpton held a prayer vigil with the Arbery family. On Thursday, Bryan’s attorney, Kevin Gough, complained about the presence of Black pastors in the courtroom.

“I think it's great that you have so many people who stood with Marcus and Wanda to say that we're better than this, America,” Crump said.

“We're more than just this. We can't allow people to lynch an unarmed Black man in 2020 — not 1955, not 1945, but 2020 — and get away with it. And so that's what we believe is really inspiring, that we've seen so many people — Black, white, brown, everybody — standing up for justice for Ahmaud Arbery.”

Ahmaud Arbery (via Reuters)
Ahmaud Arbery. (Via Reuters)

Crump says he hopes the defendants “will be held fully accountable for the murder of Ahmaud Arbery,” and noted that this coming February will mark the second anniversary of his slaying and the 10th anniversary of Trayvon Martin's.

“In February, everybody's going to be asking, 10 years later after Trayvon Martin was killed, how far have we come in America? And I believe what happens here in the trial of the killers of Ahmaud Arbery is going to make a profound proclamation on how far we've come in America.”

Marcus Arbery, meanwhile, said his family is enduring a tough time during the trial but hopes the verdict will alleviate some of their pain.

“We get justice and this is a lot of pain for us gone. We still struggling. And we still out here fighting for all our children. Not just mine. We don't want nothing like this to happen to nobody else's family.”

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