On 23 February 2020, a young black man named Ahmaud Arbery was chased and gunned down whilst jogging in Brunswick, Georgia, USA. The two assailants were retired police officer Gregory McMichael and his son Travis.
Arbery, a former football player and keen athlete, was out jogging in Satilla Shores, a predominantly white Brunswick neighbourhood, on the morning he was shot. Just that was enough to arouse suspicion and spur a number of 911 calls from residents.
Despite the fact Arbery was unarmed and innocent of any crime, the McMichaels claim Arbery was responsible for a string of unreported burglaries in the area. According to them, the local police department, and the former lead prosecutor on the case, the McMichaels were merely attempting to make a citizen’s arrest and that led to them shooting Arbery in self-defence.
Arrests were not made until 8 May, and then only because a leaked video of the incident sparked international outcry. The video also led to the popular online campaign #IrunwithMaud which has seen people all over the world (but especially in the US) dedicate their lockdown runs to Ahmaud Arbery.
How in 2020 can two white men publicly lynch a black man and face no repercussions? Part of the answer lies with Gregory McMichael’s connection to the local police department in Brunswick.
Since the investigation opened two separate prosecutors have had to recuse themselves from the case over possible conflicts of interest because McMichael previously worked as an adviser to the District Attorney’s office. The initial investigation was conducted by a police department that McMichael formerly worked for. Both the initial police investigation and prosecutor’s report have been widely condemned as fatally mismanaged, biased and flawed at best or a cover up at worst.
It would be disingenuous to try and draw a like for like comparison between the situation in the US and the UK. But in the UK there has never been a successful manslaughter prosecution brought against a law enforcement officer following a death in police custody, although there have been 1500 such deaths since 1990.
Between 1998 and 2009 only one police officer and one staff member were found guilty of any offence related to a death in police custody. Both were convicted of misconduct in a public office.
Here in the UK, too, black and minority-ethnic people are most at risk of dying at the hands of the police. According to a report by the charity Inquest, BAME people are twice as likely to die in custody from force or restraint-related injuries as their white counterparts.
The Labour party must stop playing into the right-wing narrative of “law and order” and instead stand with victims of police violence and vulnerable communities across the UK and beyond.
• Caroline Jeffries adds: Some activists in the UK joined the weekend of action on 10 May by cycling to the US Embassy in London and staging a social distanced action.
There were two armed guards outside the embassy. They saw the group of us standing there, at this point without any banners, and only asked us not to sit on the embassy wall. We complied.
However, the second we pulled out our banners, the police became aggressive with us, demanding to see IDs and know protesters’ names. The incident was small, but showed a double standard in how social distancing rules are being enforced.