Another American lynching, buried beneath a racist criminal justice system | Editorial

We hold this truth to be self-evident: The murder of Ahmaud Arbery was a lynching — to use Bryan Stevenson’s definition, as a racially-motivated act of violence committed by two or more people where there was no accountability — and it only takes one careful viewing of the Feb. 23 shooting on video to label it as such.

But what makes it more terrifying is that an elected law enforcement official in 21st century Georgia — a state that has had 594 documented lynchings between 1877 and 1950 — gave it his official endorsement after watching footage of this murder with impunity more than two months ago.

Clearly, without the videotape that went viral Tuesday, there would have been no attempt at justice, and it was only Thursday night that charges were finally brought. If not for this gargantuan mess of a truth bomb being posted on a radio station website — incandescent evidence that even Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp called “absolutely horrific” — this case would still be nailed shut.

Because the proof is laid out in just 36 gut-wrenching seconds: A black man out for a casual jog was chased and then cut off by a pickup truck, and two white men with big guns — one of them a former DA investigator — then shot Arbery three times as Arbery tried to protect himself.

The justification, their defense goes, is that the 25-year-old jogger resembled a burglary suspect.

That was enough for George Barnhill, the local District Attorney, whose handling of this case is textbook Southern racial justice.

Though he had seen the video that has since outraged the nation, Barnhill sent an April 2 letter to the head of the Glynn County Investigation Division that teeters on parody, as he explains why there was “insufficient probable cause” to arrest Greg McMichael and Travis McMichael, the father and son in the pickup truck.

Barnhill wrote that the McMichaels had “solid firsthand probable cause to hold this criminal suspect until law enforcement arrived” because “under Georgia Law this is perfectly legal.”

Actually, it’s not. The statute authorizing citizen’s arrests in Georgia states that “a private person may arrest an offender if the offense is committed in his presence or within his immediate knowledge.” The McMichaels admit they saw neither.

Note that after watching the video and having no evidence of a crime other than a jogger’s skin color, Barnhill still called Arbery a “criminal suspect.”

Then he slathered on two more coats of fiction, both disproven by the video.

He said that “given the fact Arbery initiated the fight. . . .(Travis) McMichael was allowed to use deadly force to protect himself.” He added that “Arbery’s mental health records & prior convictions help explain his apparent aggressive nature and his possible thought pattern to attack an armed man.”

It’s bad enough that some states allow vigilantes to dress up as toy cops with real guns, which is asking for trouble. The assessments they make require training, and the consequences are often tragic. This nation still feels the pain inflicted by village idiots like George Zimmerman.

But it’s worse when someone like George Barnhill is given a position of trust. It took him six weeks to recuse himself from the case because of his own conflict — his son worked with Greg McMichael — and though the case is now under state authority and heading to a grand jury, he is the worst of us. He witnessed a lynching, and he looked the other way.

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