“This wasn’t about trespassing. This wasn’t about neighborhood crimes, either. … It was about race — racial assumptions, racial resentment, and racial anger,” Justice Department civil rights division counsel Christopher J. Perras told a jury in court Monday morning in Brunswick, Georgia.
Defendants Travis McMichael, his father Gregory McMichael, and their neighbor William “Roddie” Bryan knew only this for certain when they saw Arbery running in their neighborhood in February 2020 outside Brunswick — that Arbery “was a Black man running down a public street,” Perras said.
“(The McMichaels didn’t pursue) because they were concerned about trespassing, unless something extra was motivating them. … (It was) pent-up racial anger,” Perras said.
The jury in the federal trial will decide whether Arbery was killed because of the color of his skin. The three men are each charged with interference with rights — a hate crime — and attempted kidnapping. The McMichaels also face charges related to the use of firearms during a violent crime.
The defendants’ attorneys were due to give their closing arguments from late Monday morning into the afternoon.
Prosecutor raises evidence of racial slurs and animus
Perras contrasted the defendants’ actions to others in the neighborhood, including a neighbor who, instead of chasing Arbery, simply called a non-emergency police line after seeing him at the construction site.
That was vigilance, whereas the defendants were vigilantes, Perras said.
Arguing the McMichaels acted out of racial resentment, Perras pointed to testimony about the way they talked about African Americans.
Perras said evidence showed Travis McMichael projected hatred of Black people onto Arbery. When Travis McMichael’s gun was stolen from the neighborhood well before the fatal February 2020 encounter, evidence showed he blamed that on the Black person who’d been reported at the construction site.
There was no evidence any such person had taken McMichael’s gun, and he ignored evidence that a White person had allegedly stolen a gun from a vehicle down the street weeks beforehand, Perras said.
“He didn’t ask Ahmaud, ‘Are you OK.’ … (He assumed) the Black man was in the wrong and the White guys were in the right. … That’s how hard-wired his racial assumptions were,” Perras said.
Defense attorneys have acknowledged their clients used racist language, but have denied Arbery’s race motivated his killing or their actions toward him.
The jury is made up of eight White jurors, three Black jurors and one Hispanic juror, according to details provided in court. Three White people and one Pacific Islander have also been selected as alternates.
The prosecution in the murder trial conceded surveillance videos did show Arbery at the construction site multiple times, including the day he was killed, but said that he never broke in or took anything.
At this month’s hate crimes trial, a police officer testified the site’s owner had called police several previous times about surveillance video showing people on his property — including a Black man and, separately, a White couple.
The officer testified that while patrolling the neighborhood in December 2019, he showed video and photos of the incidents to Gregory McMichael, because he knew McMichael from his time as an investigator for the country district attorney’s office.
When a prosecutor asked the officer whether he thought McMichael would chase anyone if he saw someone from the video, the officer said no.
“At the end of the day, the evidence in this case will prove that if Ahmaud Arbery had been White, he would have gone for a jog, checked out a cool house under construction, and been home in time for Sunday supper,” Assistant US Attorney Barbara Bernstein told the jury last week. “Instead, he went out for a jog and ended up running for his life.”
The defendants’ attorneys, making separate opening statements last week, acknowledged the men had used racist language — but said that their actions toward Arbery were not related to race.
CNN’s Pamela Kirkland, Alta Spells, Kevin Conlon and Nick Valencia contributed to this report.