Editor’s note: This story has been edited to include comments from University of Toronto runner A.J. Bimm and an update regarding the arrest of Gregory and Travis McMichael.
On February 23, around lunchtime, 25-year-old Ahmaud Arbery of Brunswick, Ga. was shot to death while out for a run in his hometown. At the time, Arbery’s death seemed like yet another in a very long history of blacks being targeted by white Americans, but fears around public gatherings due to the coronavirus pandemic meant his friends and family could do little to arouse public sentiment about the case, in which no charges have yet been laid. But this week a video of the shooting emerged, renewing outrage over what appears to be the obvious profiling, stalking and murder of a black man, the fact that no charges had been laid, and sparking discussions in the running community over the fact that in many areas, people of colour cannot leave their homes without risking their lives.
According to an April 26 report in the New York Times, Arbery was a former high school football player who ran for fitness and maintained the habit into his 20s. That day in February, he happened to run past the home of Gregory McMichael, 64, who decided Arbery looked like the suspect in a string of recent robberies in the area. McMichael called to his son Travis, 34, and the two of them jumped in their truck after grabbing a handgun and a shotgun. The local prosecutor (who later recused himself from the case because his son had worked with Gregory in the district attorney’s office) determined that Arbery was shot three times after a scuffle between him and Travis, who was holding the shotgun, and that Travis acted in self-defense. Further, the prosecutor determined that the McMichaels were justified in pursuing Arbery under the state’s citizen’s arrest law.
We’re literally hunted EVERYDAY/EVERYTIME we step foot outside the comfort of our homes! Can’t even go for a damn jog man! Like WTF man are you kidding me?!?!?!?!?!? No man fr ARE YOU KIDDING ME!!!!! I’m sorry Ahmaud(Rest In Paradise) and my prayers and blessings sent to the….. pic.twitter.com/r1PNxs8Vgn
— LeBron James (@KingJames) May 6, 2020
The report makes reference to a video shot by a third individual who had joined in pursuing Arbery, which is believed to be the same video that emerged publicly this week. The original prosecutor claimed it showed that Arbery tried to grab the shotgun out of Travis’s hands – which, according to the prosecutor, meant that Travis acted in self-defense in shooting Arbery – an interpretation that struck many as absurd, even without seeing the video.
Another lawyer consulted by the Times, Michael J. Moore of Atlanta, contradicted the prosecutor’s opinion, saying, “The law does not allow a group of people to form an armed posse and chase down an unarmed person who they believe might have possibly been the perpetrator of a past crime.” The case has since been transferred to a different prosecutor, Tom Durden. On Tuesday, Durden said he would take the case to a grand jury. But a May 5 Times report says that “because of the coronavirus pandemic, the Georgia Supreme Court has prohibited grand juries from meeting through June 12.”
Arbery’s high school football coach, Jason Vaughn, is quoted in the April 26 Times report as saying that Arbery was a well-known local runner who was often seen running in the area. “Mr. Vaughn said that he himself had raised suspicions by jogging through his own neighborhood in the suburbs of Brunswick,” the report goes on, “recalling a recent instance in which a white woman followed him in a van.”
“I heard about this story yesterday and I was shocked. For me running has always been something to escape. I’m comfortable running outside. I don’t think anyone should feel the need to be scared while they’re running or look over their shoulder.”
Fourth-year varsity middle-distance runner A.J. Bimm of the University of Toronto shared the following comments about the story:
“What stuck with me was that he looked like a suspect. This speaks to the issue of being black in America, where you’re automatically viewed as a criminal. You don’t see that as much in Canada, but it’s certainly present. For me, I haven’t had too much experience, but there was one instance in high school when I was walking home from the bus stop and I was stopped by police, because I “fit the description.” It turns out that person was around 40 (I was a teenager) and looked nothing like me, but that’s my most memorable moment in a public space.
“It’s not something I see too often, but nevertheless it’s there. When we were running in Louisville before a cross-country meet, I remember feeling uncomfortable. We were in a small town at night. But in a big city, it feels totally different. There are people around. That’s a big issue in small towns that I might not experience in a big city.”
At the request of the prosecutor (Durden), the Georgia Bureau of Investigation got involved in the case. On Thursday, May 7, they arrested Gregory and Travis McMichael and charged both men with murder and aggravated assault.
Friday, May 8 would have been Arbery’s 26th birthday. Runners are invited to post messages on social media using the hashtag #IRunWithMaud.