ATLANTA (Reuters) – Protesters on Saturday demanded the removal of two district attorneys accused of dragging their feet in arresting two white men suspected in the shooting death of a young black jogger in the Brunswick, Georgia area.
Speeches rang out from the steps of the small coastal community’s courthouse during a rally that drew hundreds outraged by the video of the killing of Ahmaud Arbery, 25. Activists 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.
Some of the protesters made a four-hour trek from Atlanta on Saturday morning. They chanted “Justice of Ahmaud” and “I am Ahmaud,” and also wore T-shirts memorializing Arbery. Local clergy led prayers for his family members, some of whom attended the rally.
“Ahmaud’s death won’t be in vain,” his aunt Thea Brooks said on the steps of the Glynn County Courthouse as other family members stood next to her. “We are going to fight for Ahmaud. We are going to get answers when it comes down to justice for Ahmaud.”
Speakers told the crowd that Jackie Johnson and George Barnhill – the district attorneys for the Brunswick and Waycross judicial circuits – must be removed from office for their handling of the case. It took 74 days after the shooting for the suspects to be arrested and charged.
“Racism is real in America and racism is real in Brunswick, Georgia and we come today to send a message to the racists and the supremacist that we will fight you with everything that we have,” said Rev. Timothy McDonald, the pastor of First Iconium Baptist Church in Atlanta said.
Atlanta civil rights attorney Mawuli Davis, 51, one of the organizers of the demonstration, said the case reflects a U.S. justice system that is biased in favor of whites.
“If it wasn’t for the video, this would have been swept under the rug,” he said in a Reuters interview on Friday.
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.
Last week, Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr asked the U.S. Justice Department to open a probe into how the case was handled by Johnson and Barnhill 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, had provided police with a written opinion that no arrests should be made in connection with the Feb. 23 shooting.
Both defendants remain in jail without bond and have yet to enter a plea. No court date has been set yet.
The U.S. Department of Justice is investigating why charges were not brought sooner and whether to charge the suspects with federal hate crimes.
The elder McMichael’s attorneys, Franklin and Laura Hogue, said in a statement there had been a rush to judgment 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.”
(Reporting by Rich McKay and Brendan O’Brien; Editing by Daniel Wallis and David Gregorio)