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The Case for Ahmaud Arbery: Citizen's Arrest and a History of Hate

The trial for the three men is underway in Georgia.

A Modern-Day Lynching

25-year-old Ahmaud Arbery was jogging through a neighborhood when he was stopped by Gregory McMichael, his son Travis, and their neighbor William Bryan. The McMichaels, armed with a pistol and shotgun, followed Arbery through the neighborhood and allegedly tried to talk to him. McMichael told law enforcement that he mistook Arbery for a suspect in a string of local robberies.

Bryan, a neighbor of the McMichaels, filmed the shooting of Ahmaud and was later arrested alongside the suspected killers. Although George McMichael released the video in the hopes that it would show him in a positive light, the footage sparked nationwide outrage.

Arbery's family calls this crime a modern-day lynching. The McMichaels frame Ahmaud as a suspicious criminal. He was a football player at a local school and a vibrant part of his community.

What Is a Citizen's Arrest?

A citizen's arrest is when a civilian detains a person they suspect of a crime. The McMichaels allegedly attempted to perform a citizen's arrest, leading to a scuffle that resulted in Arbery's death. They were acting upon reasonable suspicion: a legal term for a strong feeling that a person could be responsible for a crime.

Citizen's arrests are usually based on reasonable suspicion, and historically, the suspicion was directed toward slaves fleeing to freedom. In Georgia, this law dates back to 1863, where it was almost exclusively used to catch slaves who ran away from plantations in the area. The law was only recently repealed, after the death of Ahmaud Arbery.

Stand Your Ground

Another law that often works in tandem with citizen's arrest is Georgia's stand your ground law which make it legal to use deadly force if someone believes they are at risk of injury or death. While this law was not repealed after Ahmaud's death, it is coming under close scrutiny because of the upcoming trial.

Stand your ground laws precipitate deadly situations, especially in environments where racial tensions are high, and those who hate people for their skin color are allowed to openly carry a weapon. Any racist or white supremacist could cry wolf and kill someone under the law.

What Happens Next

Arbery's case sheds light on a complex legal system fraught with racial violence. Many are waiting to see whether this case will harken the end of the citizen's arrest or if it will empower officials to double down.