Racist defense gets free rein in trial of killers of Ahmaud Arbery

Photo: Ahmaud Arbery

The prosecution rested its case today in the trial of the killers of Ahmaud Arbery, whose racist murder helped spark last year’s nationwide uprising. The defense will begin presenting its case tomorrow before a jury determines a verdict. But already it is becoming clear that this trial is biased in favor of the murderers. 

Immediately, as the trial preparations began with jury selection on Oct. 18, the defense team absurdly proclaimed to the court, “We don’t believe this is a case about race.”

However, when looking at the voir dire questions asked to the jury pool during the jury selection — that is, the questions that the defense used to identify people’s beliefs in order to selectively decide who can and cannot be on the jury — it becomes glaringly obvious that, to the defense, race is actually the most important topic. 

The final membership of the jury, made up of residents of Glynn County — a county that is 27% Black — has only 1 Black juror out of 12. Initially, the jury pool of 64 potential jurors was 25% Black, matching the demographics of the area, but after the defense’s questions the jury was left with only a single Black person, or 8% of the jury. 

Some of the questions used in the jury selection process reveal that believing in the existence of racism and being anti-racist automatically disqualified one from serving on the jury: 

  • “Do you believe the Confederate flag is a racist symbol?” 
  • “Have you ever faced discrimination?”
  • “Do you support the Black Lives Matter movement?” 
  • “Have you ever participated in racial justice protests?”
  • “Do you believe Black people are unfairly treated in the criminal justice system?”

With the judge’s approval, the legal defense team for the racists who killed Ahmaud Arbery used questions like these to exclude nearly all Black jurors and create a Jim Crow-style jury to skew the verdict in favor of the perpetrators. 

Defense says, ‘No more Black pastors

With the grand jury indicting the three killers on nine criminal charges, all are choosing to plead not guilty. With charges that include malice murder, four counts of felony murder, aggravated assault, false imprisonment, and criminal attempt to commit a felony, there are many ways for the killers to end up facing life in prison. 

In the opening statements of the trial on Nov. 5, the defense quickly made “self-defense” its central argument — making the ridiculous claim that, after chasing the unarmed Arbery for five minutes in a pickup truck, they had “no choice” but to shoot Arbery three times with his shotgun in “self-defense.”

On Nov. 11, in a flagrant display of racism, Kevin Gough, defense attorney for William Bryan, said to the judge, “We don’t want anymore Black pastors coming in here,” in response to the Rev. Al Sharpton being present in the courtroom with the family of Ahmaud Arbery. Judge Walmsley dismissed his outrageous request after underlining that Rev. Sharpton was not a distraction to anyone. 

A pivotal struggle for justice

On Feb 23, 2020, Ahmaud Arbery was out jogging when he was ambushed, chased down, and murdered by three white men in a pickup truck in Glynn County, Georgia. Father and son Gregory and Travis McMichael shot and killed Arbery after chasing him for five minutes as their neighbor, William Bryan, recorded it all on his cell phone. The vigilantes defended their heinous actions as a citizen’s arrest and claimed Arbery was responsible for recent home invasions in the neighborhood. 

The video which revealed a cold-blooded racist lynching, was hidden by the district attorney and not released to the public until May 5, 2020 — almost two and a half months after the killing took place. 

Initially, the prosecutors were not willing to arrest the killers. In fact, they were friends with the killers, who were going to be let off the hook with no consequences. This changed when the video was forced to be released due to the struggle led by Arbery’s family and their supporters. 

The released video went viral on social media, galvanizing people into the streets who demanded justice. As a result, the two killers were finally charged with murder and arrested on May 7, 2020. Read the statement released by Liberation News on May 7 here

Arbery’s death outraged huge numbers of people, and it became a catalyst of the anti-racist uprising of 2020, which brought tens of million people into the streets in a powerful new wave of the movement for Black lives. The movement forced the political establishment in the state of Georgia to modify its citizen’s arrest statute — which is an 1863 Civil War-era law permitting whites to catch fleeing Black slaves. 

The 2020 summer rebellion transformed the struggle for justice for Ahmaud Arbery from a local one to an international one. The cries for justice for Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd became the demands of an international movement.

Now a week into the trial of Arbery’s killers, it can safely be said: Without the people in mass demanding justice, this trial would not be taking place, nor would the corporate media give it due attention. 

The defense’s flagrant displays of racism — whether it be in the jury selection process, in declaring that this trial is “not about race,” or their calls for “no more Black pastors” — is deepening the outrage felt across the country. Anything short of the maximum conviction for the three racist killers will be unacceptable to the millions of people across the United States and the world watching this trial intently. 

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