Atlanta-Based Activists Join Call For Investigation Into Ahmaud Arbery’s Death

Thomas W. Dortch is chairman of 100 Black Men of America, Inc.

Courtesy of Thomas W. Dortch

National outrage over the February shooting death of 25-year-old Ahmaud Arbery exploded this week after a leaked video captured his final moments on a suburban street in Brunswick, Georgia.

Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, Republican U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler, and several social justice organizations have demanded a thorough investigation into Arbery’s death, saying it was racially motivated.

In Atlanta, the chair of the empowerment nonprofit, 100 Black Men of America, Inc., is in the process of drafting a letter to U.S. Attorney General William Barr calling for intervention. Thomas Dortch presides over the national organization and spoke with “Morning Edition” host Lisa Rayam about the white men he refers to as vigilantes.

“To have this young man shot down, murdered, he was not caught running away from the scene of a crime; he was not threatening the lives of people; he was jogging. And so this is not even a stand your ground issue. He was targeted,” Dortch said.

“This was February 23, and here we are now, in May, and still nothing has been done.”

The video circulating on social media shows Arbery, who appeared to be unarmed, jogging in a white T-shirt and stopping before two white men blocking his path in a pickup truck, both armed with guns. One is 34-year-old Travis McMichael, and the other is his father, 64-year-old Gregory McMichael. The camera refocuses to show Arbery running around the vehicle towards Travis McMichael, who is brandishing a long shotgun. They tussle, and Arbery is shot several times. The 25-year-old man eventually died of his wounds. Neither of the McMichaels was arrested or charged.

Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms tweeted that she didn’t even want to watch the video.

“Honestly and selfishly, I didn’t want to watch the murder of #AhmaudArbery. I didn’t want to feel that nauseating churn of my stomach I get each time “it” happens. But that feeling doesn’t compare to the loss and sadness of his and too many other families. May justice be served,” the mayor wrote on Twitter. 

The Georgia Bureau of Investigation says it is now investigating Arbery’s death.

According to a Glynn County police report, Gregory McMichael said his son was acting in self-defense when he fired on Arbery.

Gregory McMichael stated there had been several break-ins in the neighborhood, and he saw Arbery “hauling ass” down Satilla Drive. McMichael then told officers that he ran inside and called his son, Travis, to grab their guns in order to pursue Arbery.

According to the police report, “McMichael stated they saw the unidentified male and shouted ‘stop, stop, we want to talk to you.’ McMichael stated they pulled up beside the male and shouted stop again, at which time Travis exited the truck with the shotgun. McMichael stated the unidentified male began to violently attack Travis and the two men then started fighting over the shotgun, at which point Travis fired a shot and then a second later there was a second shot. McMichael stated the male fell face down on the pavement with his hand under his body. McMichael stated he rolled the man over to see if the male had a weapon.”

Police said there was blood on the younger McMichael’s hands from rolling over Arbery.

Georgia law says a person can kill in self-defense “only if he or she reasonably believes that such force is necessary to prevent death or great bodily injury … or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony.” The law also says a person who provokes an attack or acts as “the aggressor” can’t claim self-defense.

Greg McMichael is a former Glynn County police officer and former investigator for the Brunswick District Attorney’s Office.

Lily Oppenheimer and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

For a deeper exploration of Ahmaud Arbery’s story, listen to WABE’s podcast, “Buried Truths.” Hosted by journalist, professor, and Pulitzer-prize-winning author Hank Klibanoff, season three of “Buried Truths” explores the Arbery murder and its direct ties to racially motivated murders of the past in Georgia.