Justice for Ahmaud Arbery: Three Men Guilty of Federal Hate Crimes

Savanna Yelling, Contributor

In a federal hate crimes trial on Feb. 21, the three white men who murdered Ahmaud Arbery whilst he was jogging were found guilty on all charges.

Nearly two years after Arbery’s murder, the federal jury unanimously decided that Travis McMichael, his father Gregory McMichael, and neighbor William Bryan targeted, shot, and killed Arbery, an innocent Black man, solely due to his race.

They were charged with interference of rights as they used their cars to trap him, prohibiting him from running on a public street. All three defendants were charged with kidnapping Arbery and Travis and Gregory McMichael were charged with using a firearm during a violent crime.

Preceding the federal case, the three men were facing life in prison for their state-level convictions in January 2022. The federal trial focused on the fact that this murder was far from a random attack as the perpetrators were hyper fixated and motivated by race. This was exposed by the prosecution in text messages and social media posts from all three men using racial slurs.

Travis and Gregory McMichael aimed to justify their actions by claiming their anger stemmed from Arbery trespassing on private property. However, this was disproved when the prosecution showed a video of the father-son duo laughing as they trespassed on private property while out hunting, further proof that their anger and hatred was racially motivated.

Another video presented in the trial that was shared by Travis McMichael on social media resembled a minstrel show. The racist evidence brought jurors, such as Marcus Ransom, to tears as it was so cruel. Ransom said it showed “so much hatred.”

Although the three men were proven guilty of murder on the state level, being proven guilty of federal level hate crimes serves a greater level of justice to Arbery, his family, and the Black community. This conviction is exceptional considering the slow start to the case and the tendency for the criminal justice system to mishandle cases involving minorities.

Arbery was murdered on Feb. 20, 2020. Three prosecutors recused themselves from the case concluding that there was no reason to charge. Travis and Gregory McMichael were not arrested until 10 weeks after the murder.

The arrests were made after an extremely graphic video of the incident circulated online and sparked a rally for change. At the height of the Black Lives Matter movement, Ahmaud Arbery was one of the names protestors shouted in the streets along with George Floyd and Breonna Taylor.

In a New York Times interview on April 26, 2020, Arbery’s friends and family members admitted to the fear that this case may slip through the cracks. The shift from fearing the case would disappear, to seeing all three defendants convicted at the highest level is indicative of the power of protest and petition. In the words of Arbery’s mother, Wanda Cooper-Jones: “they didn’t make the arrests because they saw the tape; they made arrests because we saw the tape.”