Thoughts on another miscarriage of justice in the broken USA
An unpopular cause I feel compelled to stick up for today is the cause of Travis McMichael, his father Gregory McMichael, and their neighbor William “Roddie” Bryan, all of Brunswick, Georgia, USA, who were recently found guilty of murdering Ahmaud Arbery. Rightly or wrongly, I am convinced that this verdict is blatantly unjust. I also believe that many Americans, not just the jury and the prosecutor, are complicit in this injustice—an injustice that is much closer to murder (these men are likely to die in prison) than was the actual killing of Arbery.
Grievous miscarriages of justice occur frequently now in the United States, and often arise due to race-related issues that bias prosecutors and jurors. So why am I writing about this particular injustice, and not, say, the travesty of the Derek Chauvin verdict? I think it’s mainly because in the Chauvin case I read a healthy amount of commentary defending Chauvin, whereas in the case of the McMichaels and Bryan I read no defenses, only smug expressions of satisfaction or at least placid acceptance of this verdict, even among people who should know better.
The guilt of the McMichaels and Bryan is, in other words, part of the contemporary American “conventional wisdom” that I have come to distrust almost reflexively.
Why the McMichaels and Bryan were abandoned to their harsh fate so easily, even willfully and joyously, by their countrymen is something I’ll speculate about later in this essay, but first I want to go over some of the basic facts of the case.
The killing of Ahmaud Arbery
Ahmaud Arbery was a 25-year old African-American man who lived in Brunswick, Georgia. Like many African-American men, he had a police record for at least moderately serious crimes, including bringing a handgun to a high school football game in 2013, and an attempted shoplifting of a TV from a WalMart in 2017. He was still on probation when he died.
In late 2018, apparently based on his own observations as well as those of family members, Arbery’s probation officer recommended that Arbery get a mental health evaluation. At this evaluation—the defense lawyers brought this up at the trial, but the judged ruled it inadmissible—Arbery described to the evaluator (apparently a psychiatric nurse) “auditory delusions sometimes commanding him ‘to rob and steal’ and sometimes telling him ‘to hurt people,’” as well as general difficulties controlling his anger. Arbery was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder and prescribed olanzapine (Zyprexa), a second-generation antipsychotic that is also used treat schizophrenia and the manic episodes of type 1 bipolar disorder; however, he apparently didn’t take the drug for long, and there was no evidence of it in his system when he died, although there were trace amounts of THC, the active ingredient in marijuana.
The MSM stories after Arbery’s death were heavily biased in the young man’s favor, and tended to omit or downplay anything negative, preferring to show a picture of him looking spiffy in his prom suit . . .
. . . and preferring to emphasize that at the time of his death Arbery was “planning” to attend a local technical college to become an electrician, and often went jogging for exercise.
In general, because of this overwhelming bias, it is hard to trust the information about Arbery that was provided by his family and their lawyer and cannot be verified, e.g., with documents. We can’t say with confidence much more about his background than what judicial records show, namely that he had a history of being armed illegally, and of attempting theft, and of showing signs of mental illness including serious impulse-control problems. This shouldn’t necessarily have had any bearing on the jury’s findings, but it does speak to the broader moral picture, and definitely belies the many MSM portraits of Arbery that were designed, in part, to whip up hatred against the men who killed him.
Late in 2019 Arbery had begun taking occasional jogs into a mostly white neighborhood called Satilla Shores, where the McMichaels and Bryan lived. A video camera also had recorded him, in his jogging clothes, walking into a house in the neighborhood that was under construction—this had happened several times, mostly at night.
In the months immediately preceding his fateful encounter with the McMichaels, there also had been several break-ins or thefts in the neighborhood, including the theft of a gun from an unlocked truck—reported by Travis McMichael on January 1.
On the night of February 11, according to Wikipedia:
Travis called 9-1-1 to report a slender 6-foot-tall Black man with short hair, wearing red shorts and a white shirt, who was trespassing on the site of a house under construction. Travis said, “I’ve never seen this guy before in the neighborhood.” The dispatcher asked whether Travis was OK, and he said, “Yeah, it just startled me. When I turned around and saw him and backed up, he reached into his pocket and ran into the house. So I don’t know if he’s armed or not. But he looked like he was acting like he was.” “We’ve been having a lot of burglaries and break-ins around here lately”, Travis said on the call. He told the dispatcher that he was out in his truck, and that as many as four neighbors were out looking for the man. His father Gregory was one of the people out searching that night, and Gregory and at least one other neighbor were armed. Police responded and searched the house along with a neighbor, but found no one. However, surveillance video from that evening showed a man who reportedly looked like Arbery, briefly walking in and out of the house under construction. He did not take anything. The under-construction house did not have doors or windows.
While Arbery died before the mystery of the local thefts could be solved, there doesn’t seem to be any evidence that exonerates him in all those thefts, despite the MSM’s implications otherwise. Given his background and the correspondence of his jogging and the local burglaries, it seems at least plausible—and evidently many Satilla Shores residents suspected—that he used his jogging at night as a cover for burglaries, and jogging in daytime to select his night-time targets. (I would be interested to know whether the burglaries continued after Arbery’s death, but haven’t seen any reference to such data.)
On the 23rd of February, shortly after one o’clock in the afternoon, Arbery once again ran into Satilla Shores, and into the house under construction, and once again was recorded on video camera.
A neighbor, Matthew Albenze, also spotted Arbery and called 911 to report the trespass on the building under construction. Wikipedia again:
The 9-1-1 dispatcher asked if the man was “breaking into it right now?” The caller replied: “No … it’s all open.” After the caller said the man was now “running down the street”, the dispatcher said police would respond. The dispatcher asked at 1:08 p.m., “I just need to know what he was doing wrong. Was he just on the premises and not supposed to be?” The caller responded, with some parts garbled, saying: “And he’s been caught on camera a bunch at night. It’s kind of an ongoing thing.”
Why Arbery ran away isn’t clear, but the perception among those who saw him was that he was trying to escape after stealing something from the construction site. Apparently he hadn’t stolen anything, but if he had known that the cops had been called, then, being on probation, he might have wanted to avoid another brush with the law. Then again, if Arbery was mentally ill, it is probably pointless to try to rationalize his actions.
Soon Arbery ran past the McMichaels’ house, where Gregory McMichael, working in the yard, saw him and recognized him as the repeat trespasser the neighborhood was worried about. He and Travis armed themselves and got into their white pickup truck, and gave chase.
The MSM accounts, and the account of the prosecutor, are worded to suggest that the McMichaels were racist good-old-boys who pursued Arbery that day simply because they wanted to hunt down, and snuff out the life of, an innocent black man whose only “crime” was “jogging while black.” To say that this is false, and as such represents both journalistic and prosecutorial misconduct, would be putting it very mildly. Both McMichaels had law enforcement experience, and obviously (all the evidence leans this way) were attempting a citizen’s arrest, a procedure that has a long history in the United States and at the time was specifically sanctioned in Georgia law. In other words, they wanted only to detain Arbery so that he could be questioned by police.
Whether they had sufficient reason to attempt a citizen’s arrest is debatable. However, to say that in the heat of the moment someone slightly exceeding his rights under a citizen’s arrest law automatically will be charged with false imprisonment, and then murder for defending his life when the mentally ill arrestee attacks him, is completely absurd. Citizen’s arrest laws are not meant to sanction vigilantism, but they also are not meant to be life-destroying traps for honest citizens who are trying to protect their neighborhoods—in what was here a demonstrable absence of effective policing.
The McMichaels tried unsuccessfully to cut off Arbery as he ran, and, they said later, even asked him to stop and let them talk to him, but he didn’t respond and continued running in an attempt to evade them. They could easily have shot him, if killing him had been their intent, but they did not; they simply kept trying to get him to stop.
At some point Bryan, who had seen the chase go by his own house, joined in with his black pickup truck and tried—again, unsuccessfully—to cut off the running man. Note that Bryan was not a close friend of the McMichaels; he was merely another resident in this neighborhood that was now literally up in arms over the rash of thefts and trespassings, and hoped to put the perp behind bars.
Ultimately the McMichaels gave up pursuing Arbery—apparently the neighborhood had many open yards through which he could always evade them—and simply parked their pickup at a crossing where they thought he was likely to appear in his attempt to get away.
At this point, just several minutes after Albenze’s 911 call, Travis McMichael, standing on the road by the driver’s side door, made his own 911 call—but then saw Arbery coming and handed the phone to his father, who stood in the truck bed:
a male caller said: “I’m out here at Satilla Shores …There’s a Black male running down the street.” The 9-1-1 dispatcher asked, “Where at Satilla Shores?” The caller replied: “I don’t know what street we’re on.”
Arbery now as he approached apparently saw Travis standing with his shotgun by the open driver’s door on the left side of the pickup truck. Arbery might have turned around or veered onto either of the lawns beside the narrow road. Instead he kept running towards the truck, though he altered course to the right side of the road, and then ran along the right side of the truck, just a few feet from Gregory McMichael who stood in the truck bed talking to 911. When he reached the front of the truck, Arbery suddenly cut left and charged Travis.
This was the impulse that killed Arbery. You and I, and pretty much every sane person aware of the story, know this, and know that we would never have done what he did. We know that we would have stopped, and we know that if Arbery had stopped, as he’d been asked, he would still be alive, the McMichaels and Bryan would be free, and none of us would have heard of any of them.
But Arbery charged Travis. Bryan, who had been in pursuit of Arbery, parked his pickup in time to catch most of this tragic encounter on his cellphone camera.
Arbery in his fatal lunge had almost reached Travis when the latter fired his shotgun, catching Arbery in the chest. Arbery kept coming and tried to wrest the gun away from Travis. Meanwhile Gregory McMichael, with the phone still to his ear and the line to the 911 dispatcher still open, screamed at Arbery to stop.
The caller shouted, “Stop! … Watch that. Stop, damn it! Stop!”
Why did Gregory McMichael shout at Arbery to stop? Well, obviously because he and his son had never intended to kill Arbery and were astonished that he was making it necessary.
Arbery did not stop. He kept struggling for the shotgun until Travis had shot him with it a total of three times. After the third shot, which went through the left side of his chest, Arbery quickly weakened, staggered, and collapsed to the pavement.
Alerted by the first 911 call, the police soon arrived. Arbery by then was dead. Travis McMichael was splashed in blood and evidently in shock (“No, I’m not all right,” he told the cop. “I just fucking killed someone.”)
But, along with his father, he cooperated. Bryan cooperated too. They freely discussed the events of the preceding minutes, evidently without any sense of having committed a crime. The police did not arrest them, and the local district attorney’s office did not charge them. The Brunswick Circuit DA, Jackie Johnson, saw the case as an unfortunate but not really criminal one involving a mentally ill young man who essentially had brought about his own death through his own impulsive and violent actions.
Johnson had connections to the McMichaels, though, so she recused herself and turned the thing over to a neighboring district, Waycross Judicial Circuit District. The DA there, George Barnhill, felt the same way about the case. According to Wikipedia:
On April 2, Barnhill wrote a memorandum to Glynn County police, recommending that no arrests be made. Barnhill wrote that the McMichaels were within their rights to chase “a burglary suspect, with solid firsthand probable cause”; that “Arbery initiated the fight”; and that Travis McMichael “was allowed to use deadly force to protect himself” when “Arbery grabbed the shotgun”.
By this time, of course, Arbery’s family had got a lawyer, “leaders of the black community” were getting involved, and there were demands for a prosecution. So the whiff of racial protest, with all that entails for a prosecutor’s career, was already in the air. Soon Barnhill washed his hands of the case, with a rather tenuous excuse:
Arbery had previously been prosecuted by his son, a prosecutor for the Brunswick Circuit District Attorney’s Office, in an earlier case [and] one of the defendants [Gregory McMichael] had served as an investigator on the same prosecution.
And so, on April 13, the Georgia Attorney General’s Office handed the case to another nearby venue, the Atlantic Judicial Circuit.
It’s unclear what would have happened if the case had simply been left at the Atlantic Judicial Circuit, with no new event to inflame the situation, but presumably its DA, one Tom Durden, would have been under the same political pressures as the two DAs that had passed on the case.
What did happen is this: On May 5 a local defense lawyer who had consulted informally with Gregory and Travis McMichael uploaded Bryan’s cellphone video to the website of a local radio station. Stories were circulating to the effect that Arbery had simply been gunned down while jogging, and the lawyer apparently thought that the video would convince the public of the McMichaels’ innocence. He thought wrong—not because the video shows the McMichaels to be murderers, but simply because it somewhat shockingly depicts a young African-American man’s death at the hands of two fairly stereotypical-looking southern white fellows. This publication of the video was, remember, in one of the hardest, most hysterogenic periods of the COVID-19 pandemic. Just a few weeks later, America would erupt in the Great Awokening after George Floyd’s death—but even now it was clear that this society was becoming very restive under pressure, and its politicians and politically sensitive prosecutors were doing what they could to placate the more restive elements.
From Wikipedia again:
Within hours of the video becoming public, Tom Durden, the district attorney for Georgia’s Atlantic Judicial Circuit, said that he would present the case to “the next available grand jury in Glynn County” to decide if charges should be filed. The convening of grand juries had been postponed until after June 12 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Durden accepted Georgia Governor Brian Kemp’s offer to bring in the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) to investigate. [italics mine]
At this point, with the most senior state politician getting involved in what should have been an obscure case, and more or less signaling—virtue-signaling—which way it should go, the McMichaels’ fate was sealed.
The GBI found probable cause to charge Gregory and Travis McMichael within 36 hours of taking over jurisdiction of the case, and, on May 7, arrested and charged them with felony murder. The McMichaels were booked into the Glynn County Jail. At an appearance before a judge the following day, the McMichaels were both denied bond.
A few days later, Bryan too was arrested and charged.
Ladies of the Jury
When the case came before a jury, it was widely reported that eleven of the twelve jurors were white. It was much less widely reported that nine of those eleven were women.
Women, as I have been writing for the past decade, “wear the pants” now in most Western societies, i.e., have unprecedented and often dominant influence in many realms of culture. This is important because on average women think about and react to the world differently than men. Compared to men, for example, women seem much more emotionally aroused by stories of white-on-black racial conflict. Women, white women, also appear to have been the dominant participants in the bizarre BLM frenzy of the summer 2020 Great Awokening.
If the McMichael/Bryan defense lawyers had read my essays, they would have known this (I write this only half-jokingly—my essays are not that obscure) and accordingly might have tried a different jury-selection strategy—though really, as this and many other examples show, the jury system in the United States is generally unlikely to deliver justice in cases where the forces of Wokeness favor one side.
In any case, the jury members were mostly women, the DA that ultimately charged the three defendants was a black woman (she claimed at the trial, among other things, that the defendants “chased, hunted down and ultimately executed” Arbery), and the lead prosecutor in the trial was a woman. And of course, Al Sharpton sat in the courtroom with Arbery’s family, and a mob of demonstrators camped outside the court building, to remind those sensitive women of the jury what they would face if they delivered the wrong verdict.
The jury, without much deliberation, duly returned a verdict of guilty on most of the charges. These charges included felony murder for all three defendants—even Bryan who had not been armed and had done nothing more than pursue Arbery in his truck. Travis McMichael, who presumably would have been killed by Arbery had he not defended himself, was additionally found guilty of “malice murder,” which means murder with “express or implied malice.”
These charges bring a minimum 30-year sentence before the possibility of parole, and for Travis McMichael, with the additional malice murder rap, there may be no parole—that will be up to the judge.
The Biden Administration, of course, watched this show trial approvingly.
However, it isn’t going to let it go at that. No, the Biden Administration via its “Justice” Department will try to earn further brownie points in the eyes of its voter base, and at the same time try to crush the spirit of conservative Legacy Americans, by pursuing a federal hate-crime trial of the McMichaels and Bryan—scheduled to convene next year.
Meanwhile the state of Georgia, led by “Republican” Gov. Brian Kemp, will also send a message by prosecuting former Brunswick Circuit DA Jackie Johnson—the first one to recuse herself, remember—for “obstruction of justice.” This will ensure that, the next time a black person in Georgia is killed by whites for any reason whatsoever, local DAs will show the proper Stakhanovite zeal in prosecuting.
Flaws in the Law
Note that Georgia law defines the kind of murder alleged in the case as follows:
(a) A person commits the offense of murder when he unlawfully and with malice aforethought, either express or implied, causes the death of another human being.
(b) Express malice is that deliberate intention unlawfully to take the life of another human being which is manifested by external circumstances capable of proof. Malice shall be implied where no considerable provocation appears and where all the circumstances of the killing show an abandoned and malignant heart.
(c) A person commits the offense of murder when, in the commission of a felony, he or she causes the death of another human being irrespective of malice.
Did “all the circumstances of the killing show an abandoned and malignant heart” on the part of Travis McMichael? The answer is obviously no. He did not shoot Arbery from the window of his truck (or at any time until charged) as he would have done had his intent been murderous; he phoned 911 prior to the fatal encounter; he did not flee the scene of the killing; he showed every sign of having been shaken by that killing because he had not expected it; and he cooperated with the police who came to the scene. If he had an “abandoned and malignant heart” (why are these vague and archaic descriptors even allowed in the legal code?) he would have acted like a typical premeditated killer, shooting Arbery in a way that would not implicate himself, and denying involvement if questioned. I can imagine that a lot of American men who are forced to live with the problem of Black crime will now prefer that option, at least those men who are not totally demoralized by show trials like these.
The bigger problem here is the implied notion, noted above, that even mildly overinterpreting a citizen’s arrest law, as any concerned citizen might easily do without bad intent, can abruptly (by the whim of a biased jury) turn the citizen into a felon, and then a murderer if he has to defend himself against the arrestee’s violence. If such a notion were valid, a citizen’s arrest law would be worse than worthless. It would be as if the government invited motorists to drive across a very long and narrow, guardrail-less bridge over a mile-deep gorge, having positioned the bridge in such a way that it constantly swayed and shimmied in the wind. It effectively would be no bridge at all—only a deathtrap for the unwary.
The Malignant Heart of the Matter
Is there even any point in arguing over the legal questions at the heart of such cases? I can remember many racially tinged travesties of justice in my adult life, going back at least to the O.J. Simpson trial of 1995. These cases always feel like inversions of the To Kill a Mockingbird setup—either an apparently guilty black man goes free or gets off lightly, or a wrongfully prosecuted white man has his life ruined. More importantly, the process by which these injustices occur is always (as in Harper Lee’s model of 1930s small-town Alabama) a social process involving race-politics pressures as well as a lot of venality, cowardice, and hysteria. Tom Wolfe somehow got away with writing a big novel, Bonfire of the Vanities, about the modern versions of these circuses, a novel that even in 1987 conveyed strongly the message that American society and its judicial system had been irretrievably broken by decades of racial factionalism.
Similarly, what really drew my attention to this case was the evidence of race-politics pressure on DAs and politicians, the jury’s disregard for the basic evidence that should have exonerated the defendants, the MSM’s wanton mischaracterizations of the case (go back and read their accounts!), and then, above all, the overwhelmingly positive, smug reaction to the verdict by so many Americans.
Of course, Twitter and social media generally are full of people who can cheaply virtue-signal while never having to deal with the unhappy realities afflicting ordinary Americans. Stephen King, for example, lives in a humongous complex on a barrier-island beach south of Sarasota—I know because I once lived nearby—at the least-accessible extremity of a wealthy neighborhood that was designed by its residents to keep out the riffraff, including anyone who looks remotely like Ahmaud Arbery. From that fortress King is unlikely ever to have to face the problem of burglary or thievery, and anyway any losses from such property crime would be infinitesimal in their impact on him.
But I think virtue-signaling is only a small and secondary part of this. Over the past few years, and especially since the COVID pandemic started, the more or less diffuse growth of wokeness in American life seems to have cohered into a Salem-like episode of socially sanctioned savagery—arguably almost as deadly as Salem, and much more broad and durable. I’ve even had the vague imaginative sense (from a distance, as an expatriate) that this mass hysteria has been developing into a kind of cult, presided over by a collectively summoned black perp-god, or purple-haired Gender Studies goddess, who in strident tones demands a constant flow of human sacrifices. (Another writer elaborated this human-sacrifice concept before me, so I will mostly leave that imagery to him.)
The centrality of pictures and videos should give us a clue to how these weird social phenomena arise. If, let us say, a young black man, a man like Ahmaud Arbery, is found dead in the street by gunshot one day, but there is no video evidence of how he was killed, what will be the public reaction? The reader knows the answer already, because such cases occur many times per day across the US, especially in heavily black cities such as Chicago, St. Louis, Detroit and Baltimore. There is generally no reaction, no wider resonance. The man’s family may weep. They may call on the police to solve the crime. But usually only if the cops identify a white suspect (a relatively rare event) will the case make out of the back pages of the papers, and only if the white-on-black killing is caught on video (much rarer) is the case sure to be lifted from the muck of the ordinary criminal court docket into the glare of a Woke Cult show trial.
People in general, and I guess women moreso than men on average, are apt to be distressed when they witness—for example on a video—a violent death. The distress in turn creates a sense of urgency to do something. (Consider how heavily US foreign and immigration policies in recent years have been driven by distressing images in the media, e.g., of wounded children in Syria or refugee children crossing the Rio Grande.) Distress also tends to suppress rational thought, making the mind more susceptible to the beating tom-toms (to paraphrase McLuhan) of mass delusion and madness. And when a killing depicted on a distressing video can be made to seem even remotely consistent with the central wokelore motif of evil whites harming innocent blacks—that very live snarl of wires in the American psyche—the mass delusion and madness will come together and start to lurch in a predictable direction. It will start to be controlled and guided, to do meaningful political work, by a political faction that I would say definitely has “an abandoned and malignant heart.”
It seems to me that there are usually two main group of actors that ignite these episodes: blacks who from basic instinct or family ties support fellow blacks in conflicts with whites, and a certain large stratum of white women who have, in regard to blacks, a powerful guilt and appeasement reflex. Once those two groups start up and gather steam, craven politicians and their judicial minions join in with the rapidity of scurrying rodents, and then the superorganism swells to its maximum size with the additions of journalists and millions of ordinary and celebrity virtue-signalers. This frenzied entity of many voices and noises somehow achieves a certain harmony as it demands “justice,” which is code for: give us a white victim.
One cannot overemphasize how uninterested in truth is this entity. In the case of Derek Chauvin, the entity assured us that the smirk on Chauvin’s face as he held down George Floyd was simply his sadist-cop’s delight at the approaching demise of his poor African American victim. Chauvin was a police officer with long experience of having to deal with unruly and bullshitting black perps, and of course did not have the clairvoyance to know that this particular perp, this one unlucky time, was telling the truth—but try explaining that to some vapor-brained leftist millennial or wine-aunt who is caught up in the full guilt-hate-love ecstasy of the Awokening.
In the case of Kyle Rittenhouse, the entity (speaking even through the man who is the current US president) assured us that the defendant was a white supremacist who had gone hunting for innocent protesters. The entity let it be known among the softer minded that Rittenhouse’s victims were black—this became a very widespread perception. Rittenhouse avoided becoming the next sacrificial victim mainly because the people he had shot in self defense were actually white. It must have helped too that he, Rittenhouse, was a cherubic-looking lad liable to trigger the protective maternal instincts of many American women—instincts that are normally directed entirely toward the shooting victim in such cases, at least when the victim is black.
In Georgia, of course, the victim was indeed black and the accused were southern whites who drove pickup trucks, carried guns, probably had a few Confederate flags around, and probably held African Americans in low esteem. On the great totem pole of wokeism, these men were the lowest of the low. Thus, the story the entity told of their vile misdeeds, in the MSM, in social media, in the courtroom through the mouths of sworn officers of the court, was a festival of lies and obfuscations, and essentially the defendants had no defenders other than their paid lawyers.
The victims of human sacrifice in ancient times often were drawn from the lowest, most marginalized castes. Is it not plausible that tens of thousands of years of primitive religion have worn certain paths into our minds such that even now we subconsciously act out those rituals—and perhaps can even experience, every so often, the vivid illusion that an angry god is present and wants to be appeased?
This particular deity will never stay appeased for long, though, will it? And as evidence accumulates that America’s grand racial experiment has failed, will Americans ever face up to that failure and respond rationally? Or will that failure just drive them crazier and crazier, as they deliver more and more sacrificial victims to a god who will not relent?