Two years ago today, White residents in a southeast Georgia neighborhood chased, shot and killed Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year-old Black man.
Covid-19 had not yet publicly claimed a death in the United States. We were in the middle of a presidential primary season. And most of us carried in our pockets and purses the equivalent of a television newsroom.
Ahmaud was running in a Brunswick, GA, suburban neighborhood. A White man and his son (Gregory, 66, and Travis McMichael, 36) along with a neighbor (William “Roddie” Bryan, 52) pursued him in two trucks.
“Travis McMichael shot [Ahmaud] during a struggle over McMichael’s shotgun,” according to CNN. Bryan recorded the shooting with his cellphone.
I learned about the shooting from an essay by attorney and law professor Jim Barger, Jr., that ran in the Bitter Southerner about three months later:
We can accurately trace Ahmaud’s roots in the United States directly to the late 1700s when plantation owner Thomas Spalding, purchased captive Africans for forced labor on his rice and cotton plantation on Sapelo Island, the northernmost of the now loosely defined “Golden Isles” of the Georgia Sea Islands, which variously include St. Simons, Sea Island, Jekyll, Cumberland, and the mainland towns of Brunswick and Darien. The community of Hog Hammock on Sapelo is one of the few places left where direct descendants of enslaved people fastidiously preserve many of their West African words, syntax, roots, music, crafts, mythology, and traditions in a distinct Creole culture known as Geechee — a word etymologists believe derives from the Kissi (pronounced Geezee) ethnic group of what today is known as coastal Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia.
One of Ahmaud’s high school football coaches, Jason Vaughn, coined “I run with Maud” to “[tap] into his spirit and his endurance to help me outrun this anger, this injustice, and to finish this race; because we have a long way to go before our children are safe.”
Had it not been for that cellphone video; the power of the Internet to connect the likeminded (using TCP/IP, the Internet protocol suite); and community leaders like Berger and Vaughn, this story would have ended as yet another southern “racial terror lynching.”
After all, police questioned the three men and then released them. The first prosecutor, Jackie Johnson, directed local police not to press charges and then recused herself; the second prosecutor, George Barnhill, also recused himself.
However, on 05 May 2020, attorney Alan Tucker gave Brunswick radio station WGIG the cellphone video; the station posted the video online. (How streaming video changed the shape of the Internet.)
The three White men thought the video would exonerate them. Instead, two days later the Georgia Bureau of Investigation charged them with murder; this was 74 days after the shooting.
A state jury convicted Bryan and both McMichaels of murder in late November 2021; all three were sentenced to life in prison.
Today, a federal jury convicted the three on hate crime charges as well as attempted kidnapping. The McMichaels were also convicted on gun charges.
Apple added video recording to the iPhone in 2009.
Could Steve Jobs have foreseen that these technologies — mobile phone video, Internet technologies, digital social networks — might move us closer to the technological optimist promise of making the world a better, safer place?