A caravan of cars packed with protesters will trek from Atlanta to the small coastal community of Brunswick on Saturday to rally for a young black jogger killed by two white men who chased him down and shot him because they thought he was a burglar.
Video of the killing of Ahmaud Arbery, 25, ignited outrage among activists who saw his death as the latest U.S. case of white perpetrators killing a black man and going unpunished. The father-and-son suspects were not arrested until weeks after the shooting, and just days after the video surfaced online.
“If it wasn’t for the video, this would have been swept under the rug,” said Atlanta civil rights attorney Mawuli Davis, 51, one of the organizers of Saturday’s demonstration. “If they (the suspects) were black instead of white, they would have been arrested on day one. This is not how justice should work.”
He said a newly formed organization, JustGeorgia — a coalition of about 20 churches and activist groups including the state chapter of the NAACP, are demanding that law enforcement officials involved in the case resign.
Last week, Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr asked the U.S. Justice Department to open a probe into how the case was handled by two local prosecutors – the district attorneys for the Brunswick and Waycross judicial circuits – as well as the Glynn County Police Department.
According to Carr, both prosecutors recused themselves from the investigation, one of them, the Waycross district attorney, after providing police with a written opinion that no arrests should be made in connection with the Feb. 23 shooting.
The suspects, former police officer Gregory McMichael, 64, and his son Travis, 34, were ultimately arrested and charged on May 7 with aggravated assault and murder, after the Georgia Bureau of Investigation began to probe the case.
Both defendants remain in jail without bond and have yet to enter a plea. No court date has so far been set.
The elder McMichael’s attorneys, Franklin and Laura Hogue, said in a statement that there had been a rush to judgment in the case before the “full story” was known. His son’s lawyer, Bob Rubin, said in a news release that “Travis has been vilified before his voice could even be heard.”
The U.S. Department of Justice is investigating why charges were not brought sooner and whether to charge the suspects with federal hate crimes.
Atlanta civil rights and criminal defense attorney Tiffany Williams Roberts, 38, said she was so angered by what happened in Brunswick that she decided to help launch JustGeorgia as an umbrella group to coordinate action.
“We want to make sure that the world knows we are not satisfied with just these two arrests,” Williams said, adding that the case reflects a justice system in the United States that is biased in favor of whites.
Under the slogan “We are Not Satisfied,” hundreds of protesters are expected to gather outside an Atlanta church on Saturday morning before beginning the four-hour drive south to rally in front of the Glynn County Courthouse at 2 p.m.
“We hope to pick up more followers along the way,” said Davis. “From every city and town we go through, we want people to join us. Our message is clear: we are unified.”
(Reporting by Rich McKay; Editing by Daniel Wallis)