Two different trials, two claims of self-defense, and two completely different verdicts demonstrate how the jury system works in America, combining clear legal standards, the right of the accused to mount a defense, and a decision by a jury of their peers. Justice in America isn’t nearly as rare as progressives think…
Last Wednesday, three white men were convicted by a jury of their peers for murdering a black man, Ahmaud Arbery. All three defendants, Travis McMichael, his father Gregory McMichael, and William “Roddie” Bryan, Jr. argued that Mr. Arbery was shot in self-defense after he tried to get control over a shotgun wielded by Travis McMichael. The killing itself occurred in Satilla Shores, a neighborhood outside Brunswick, GA on February 23, 2020. The now convicted murders said they believed Mr. Arbery had committed a crime and they were attempting to make a citizen’s arrest, though their story has changed several times throughout the past year and a half. Mr. Arbery had been out for a jog about three miles from his home when Travis and Gregory McMichael pursued him, armed with a shotgun and a pistol, in a pick up truck. Mr. Bryan, Jr. joined them, following in another vehicle and filming the incident. At some point, Travis McMichael exited the vehicle on the driver’s side. Mr. Arbery, who was on foot the entire time, runs past the vehicle on the passenger side, then cuts across toward Mr. McMichael. A scuffle ensued over the shotgun, and Travis McMichael killed Mr. Arbery while both his father and Mr. Bryan, Jr. watched from their vehicles.
Gregory McMichael, a former police officer and investigator for the county prosecutor’s office, claimed Mr. Arbery were struggling over his son’s shotgun, and the shooting was in self-defense. Two local prosecutors, alleged to have close relationships with the McMichael family, initially declined to prosecute the case. The first prosecutor, Jackie Johnson, was indicted on charges of violating her oath and obstructing a police officer, accused of “showing favor and affection to Greg McMichael during the investigation.” The second prosecutor, George E. Barnhill, was forced to recuse himself as well after it was revealed his son had previously worked with Mr. McMichael. “It appears Travis McMichael, Greg McMichael, and Bryan William [sic] were following, in ‘hot pursuit’, a burglary suspect, with solid first-hand probable cause, in their neighborhood,” he wrote, whitewashing the incident in his recusal letter, claiming that “We do not see grounds for an arrest of any of these three parties.”
The Georgia Bureau of Investigation was ultimately put in charge, and arrested the McMichael’s in May 2020. Mr. Bryan, Jr. was arrested at a later date. At various times, the men claimed they believed Mr. Arbery had robbed several homes in the area, soon debunked given there was only one robbery over the previous several months, and that they had seen Mr. Arbery acting suspicious at a local construction site, the owner of which said nothing illegal happened. “I believe Mr. Arbery was being pursued, and he ran till he couldn’t run anymore, and it was turn his back to a man with a shotgun or fight with his bare hands against the man with the shotgun. He chose to fight,” explained Georgia Bureau of Investigation agent, Richard Dial, at a June 2020 probable cause hearing.
Ultimately, the jury rejected all three perpetrators claims of self defense, supporting Mr. Dial’s conclusion of what actually happened: Travis and Gregory McMichael aggressively pursued Mr. Arbery without any cause, and were joined by Mr. Bryan, Jr. in another vehicle. The video footage shows Mr. Bryan, Jr. pursued Arbery in his vehicle directly toward the McMichaels. Mr. Arbery chose to confront Travis McMichaels rather than continue running. Whether or not Mr. Arbery reached for the gun was irrelevant because he was the one being chased. In other words, you can’t punch a man in the face for no reason, shoot him when he responds in kind, and claim self defense. I am not a legal expert by any means, but this seems a reasonable enough proposition.
Less than a week earlier, however, another jury reached the opposite conclusion in another self defense case. Kyle Rittenhouse had shot three men, killing two of them, in the aftermath of violent riots in Kenosha, WI last August, but the facts of that case were radically different from Mr. Arbery’s killing, even setting aside that only white people were involved in the Kenosha incident. Mr. Rittenhouse was the lone man pursued that night. He was threatened prior to the incident, beaten with a skateboard, shot at, and his attackers tried to steal his weapon. If anything, his role in the incident was much closer to Mr. Arbery’s, and the jury accepted his self defense claim.
This is the genius of American justice: A jury listens to both sides of the argument in each individual case, and then makes a unique ruling for that situation alone. They do not take the outcome from one and apply it to another. Contrary to progressive beliefs, there are no universal statements to be made when it comes to the American conception of individual justice. The law, as written, is applied to the particular facts and circumstances at hand, and the jury’s job is to carefully weigh the details unique to each case as presented by the prosecution and the defense. The process can be messy and slow at times, but ultimately it works far more often than not, offering every defendant their day in court and a chance to make their case. Thus, the not-guilty outcome of the Rittenhouse trial some five days before had absolutely nothing to do with the Arbery guilty verdict.
Unfortunately, that hasn’t stopped progressives from linking the two together along with other, also completely unrelated cases, some of them civil rather than criminal, and claiming white supremacy. John Blake, writing for CNN, claims “as I’ve watched three separate trials about White male violence unfold across the US these past few weeks — the Kyle Rittenhouse trial, the Ahmaud Arbery death trial and the civil case against organizers of the 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville — I’ve come to a sobering conclusion: There is nothing more frightening in America today than an angry White man.” (For the record, the jury awarded the plaintiffs over $20,000,000 in the Charlottesville case shortly after CNN published the article, a tremendous sum. ) He concludes, “Race is an inescapable theme that runs through all the trials. At the center of each are White men who are accused of using unjustified violence, either against an unarmed Black man or during racial protests.”
Michael Harriot, writing for The Guardian, also sees the two cases linked, as well as the initial cause of the riots in Kenosha, the shooting of knife wielding Jacob Blake at the hands of the police. In his mind, white people’s inordinate fear of black men is to blame. “Blake’s pocketknife made Sheskey [the officer involved in the shooting] fear for his life, but Rittenhouse was allowed to waltz past officers from the same police department carrying a killing machine during chaotic protests. They did not see the gun-toting teenager as a threat. He is not Black. He was not scary. That privileged loophole extends past the borders of Wisconsin. It is on display in the trial of the men who killed Ahmaud Arbery in Brunswick, Georgia.” Ultimately, the “verdict is proof that it is reasonable to believe that the fear of Black people can absolve a white person of any crime.”
Mr. Harriot believes juries rule in these cases using “white reasoning,” that is the jury tries to reasonably ascertain whether or not the defendant feared imminent bodily harm before using force, claiming “A white person came up with this.” “Because all of our opinions are shaped and colored by our experiences, ‘reasonable’ is a subjective notion. Only white people’s perceptions are made into a reality that everyone else must abide by. Think about how much privilege one must have for their feelings to become an actual law that governs the actions of people everywhere.” Of course, he neglects to mention that no one involved in the Kenosha shooting deaths was black, making it difficult to see how a fear of black people absolved Rittenhouse of anything. The article was also written before the verdict in the Arbery trial, where the jury in Georgia ruled emphatically that fear of black people wasn’t enough to claim self defense. In other words, so-called “white reasoning” was applied in both cases. Rittenhouse had reason to fear for his life because he was the one being chased and attacked. The McMichaels and Mr. Bryan, Jr. did not have reason to fear for their lives because they were doing the chasing.
It’s equally clear from articles like this, written before the Arbery verdict, that many progressives expected the men to be acquitted. White supremacy simply wouldn’t allow a jury of one black and eleven whites to convict white men for killing a black man, but when all three were convicted of the most serious charges, progressives scrambled to come up with some other criticism of American justice. Focus quickly turned to the prosecutors that had two recuse themselves, the make up of the jury, and that nature of the defense itself. Nicole Chavez and Brandon Tensley, writing for CNN, complained that defense attorneys painted Mr. Aubrey as a “brute and a thug in the trial.” It was just the “latest example in a long history of court cases that criminalize and dehumanize black victims.” “What I saw was the defense preying on White fears,” explained Carol Anderson, a historian and the chair of African American studies at Emory University. “That is the stuff coming out of Reconstruction and Jim Crow.” Angie Maxwell, a political scientist at the University of Arkansas and the co-author of The Long Southern Strategy: How Chasing White Voters in the South Changed American Politics believes the defense was trying to put Mr. Arbery “in a (specific) category of Black person.”
Unfortunately for them, the actual outcome of the trial undercuts their own position. The defense certainly tried to demonize Mr. Arbery, but they completely failed and their clients were convicted. This wouldn’t be possible if the 11 white people on the jury didn’t use both the reasonable standard and American in general had not long since moved past such racist caricatures. In other words, we’ve progressed beyond Jim Crow and Reconstruction. The tropes no longer work the way they might have 50 years ago. Of course, we have not progressed nearly enough for progressives, that will never happen. Moustafa Bayoumi, also writing for The Guardian, says that “Justice prevailed in the trial of Ahmaud Arbery’s killers. In America, that’s a shock.” He believes “the shock is that justice was served in a case where it seemed the criminal justice system and substantial portions of media coverage were doing all they could to exonerate these men.”
Similarly, CNN’s Isaac Bailey writes “one good verdict can’t undo systemic decades-deep problems. It would take thousands, maybe tens of thousands, of cases like the one that just concluded in Georgia to represent real change.” Tens of thousands of cases? How does he arrive at that number? Since 1996, there have been less than 20,000 murders in the United States a year, except for 2020 when there were 21,570. Of those murders, about 80-90% are intra-racial, meaning a white person kills another white person or a black person kills another black person. USA Today reports that “Between 1980-2008, the U.S. Department of Justice found that 84% of white victims were killed by white offenders and 93% of Black victims were killed by Black offenders.” Applying these percentages to the 9,913 black people murdered in 2020, leaves about 694 that were killed by whites or another race, meaning even if each and every single one of these cases were adjudicated as progressives want, it would take decades to reach their standards, if ever. In other words, it seems likely they won’t be satisfied until they have an exclusive right to judge these cases in the court of public opinion.
Further evidence of that can be found in the very same article. Mr. Bailey also cites The Marshall Project, a group that analyzed FBI data and determined that “When a white person kills a black man in America, the killer often faces no legal consequences.” Their research suggests that when a white person killed a black man 17 out of 100 such cases were found justified, compared to only 2 out of a 100 when other races are involved. The difference seems startling until you consider that, according to the standards set by progressives themselves, the jury gets it right 83% of the time, siding with the black victim over the white defendant. Given this data goes back to 1980, it’s also reasonable to assume the numbers have improved since then. Derek Chauvin was also convicted for murdering George Floyd in a second high profile case this year alone. Disparities of any kind are problematic, but all told, we’re talking about a mere handful of cases per year in a country of almost 350 million people. This is hardly the stuff of white supremacy, but you’ll never convince them of that: Whatever the outcome, white supremacy will ultimately be the culprit.