The Corner

Law & the Courts

The Murder of Ahmaud Arbery

A new and disturbing video of the shooting of 25-year-old Georgia man named Ahmaud Arbery has emerged. It’s a gut-wrenching thing to watch. Perhaps there will be new evidence, but it’s difficult to envision any way a jury could see this incident as anything but a flat-out murder.

For those who haven’t been following the story: Former cop Gregory McMichael says he saw Arbery “hauling ass” down his street, and assumed the black man was the burglar who had recently been targeting neighborhood homes. McMichael, his son, and a third man, armed with a handgun and a shotgun, got into two cars and chased Arbery down the street.

The older McMichael told police that he shouted at Arbery to stop. Arbery didn’t. When the posse caught up with him there was a confrontation. In the video, Arbery first goes around the vehicle to confront one of the men, and we hear a shot. Then, the video shows Arbery tussling with another man, moving away as we hear the sound of two more shots. Then we see Arbery falling to the ground.

Whatever we might learn moving forward, the entire situation was instigated by the McMichael posse, which made the decision to chase a man down a street after concluding, without any genuine evidence, that he was a burglar.

Even if Arbery had been the burglar, McMichael had no right to threaten civilians far away from the crime scene. McMichael is not a cop, and citizen’s arrest laws do not empower Georgians to brandish weapons and make demands of random suspects on the street.

Here is the relevant Georgia law on citizens’ arrests (via Allahpundit):

A private person may arrest an offender if the offense is committed in his presence or within his immediate knowledge. If the offense is a felony and the offender is escaping or attempting to escape, a private person may arrest him upon reasonable and probable grounds of suspicion.

Not only didn’t the shooters have reasonable and probable grounds of suspicion, the McMichael posse had not seen the crime committed within its immediate knowledge or it its presence.

I’ve already had people on social media pointing out that Arbery had a record of some minor criminality. The shooters couldn’t have possibly known that, nor does it matter. You don’t lose your right to life and liberty because you have a record.

I’ve also had people on social media arguing that Arbery was wrong in attacking the men. Why? Arbery, an unarmed man, had zero reason to take orders from three loud and menacing strangers. Judging from the video, he’s the one who acted in self-defense. Had Arbery been armed, he would have had far more justification to shoot than the McMichaels.

The McMichael posse didn’t mistakenly shoot down an innocent man in a botched effort to protect their home or their property. It is unlikely that their lives were in any real danger — and if they were, it was a precarious situation of their own making.

David Harsanyi is a senior writer for National Review and the author of First Freedom: A Ride through America’s Enduring History with the Gun