Tuesday marks the first anniversary of the day Ahmaud Arbery was killed by two white men armed with guns as he ran through their neighbourhood in Georgia, and those close to Arbery are planning a vigil to memorialise and celebrate his life.
Arbery’s killing occurred as the United States was settling into COVID-19 lockdowns. Authorities questioned the three white men involved in Arbery’s killing, but little happened for more than two months until a national outcry erupted after cellphone video of the shooting leaked online on May 5.
The Georgia Bureau of Investigation took over the case the next day and quickly arrested the shooter, Travis McMichael, his father, Greg McMichael, and neighbour Roddie Bryan, on murder charges.
All three men remain in pretrial detention without bond.
Jason Vaughn, Arbery’s high school football coach and an organiser of the anniversary events told the Associated Press it is important “to remind people of the origins, when it all started.
“For a long time, it was like we were yelling into the dark, and nobody was listening.”
A memorial procession led by Arbery’s family is planned for Tuesday evening through the Satilla Shores subdivision, where he fell bleeding in the street from three close-range shotgun blasts.
His mother, Wanda Cooper-Jones, is expected to join the candlelight vigil at a local church.
“I’m basically trying to just make it through the day. Each day is different,” Cooper-Jones told ABC News. “Try not to dwell on so much of what happened and try to celebrate the son that I had that was taken away from me so tragically. I’m trying to think about the good memories that we shared, and that basically gets me through the day.”
Organisers asked supporters outside Brunswick to participate in a virtual 2.23-mile (3.59 kilometre) run in memory of Arbery, an avid runner whose family says he was jogging when he got killed.
Outrage over Arbery’s slaying still simmered when a Minneapolis police officer killed George Floyd on May 25, igniting protests across the US denouncing racial injustice.
His name is still mentioned alongside other people of colour who were killed by police, including Breonna Taylor, as racial justice and anti-police brutality protests continue.
In Brunswick, the death of Arbery served as a wake-up call to many residents, both Black and white, that they needed to be more active in holding elected officials accountable, the Reverend John Perry told Associated Press. He served as president of the Brunswick NAACP chapter at the time of the killing. Now he’s running to be the city’s next mayor.
“Previously, we elected people into office and just trusted that they would do the right thing,” Perry said. “The failure to carry out justice in the Ahmaud situation said we needed to do more as citizens.”
In November, voters angered by Arbery’s death removed District Attorney Jackie Johnson. Greg McMichael, an ex-police officer, had worked as an investigator for Johnson, who recused her office from handling the case. Many blamed Johnson for playing a role in the delayed arrests, an accusation she denies.
Georgia Governor Brian Kemp is asking Georgia lawmakers to all but eliminate an 1863 state law authorising private citizens to make arrests. The prosecutor first assigned to the Arbery case cited that law in concluding the killing was justified. Kemp also signed a hate crime bill last year after Arbery’s killing.
Still, there is no trial date for the three men accused in the slaying.
Lawyers for all three men charged in the case insist they committed no crimes. The McMichaels’ lawyers have said they pursued Arbery suspecting he was a burglar after security cameras had previously recorded him entering a home under construction.
They say Travis McMichael shot Arbery fearing for his life as they grappled over a shotgun. It was Bryan, the third defendant, who took the cellphone video of the shooting from the driver’s seat of his pickup truck.
Prosecutors have said Arbery stole nothing and was merely out jogging when the McMichaels and Bryan chased him.
The anniversary march and memorial run were organised by the 2:23 Foundation, a group founded by Vaughn and Arbery’s cousin, Demetris Frazier, to fight systemic racism.
The foundation worked last year to register 18-year-old high school students to vote. Now, its members and other local activists are lobbying for the creation of a citizen review panel for the Glynn County Police Department, which handled the initial response to Arbery’s slaying.Vaughn, who coached Arbery at Brunswick High School, said planning for the anniversary has been taxing. For him, Arbery’s slaying remains painfully fresh.
“You want to make sure you keep Ahmaud’s name alive, but it’s like reading an obituary over and over again,” Vaughn said. “It’s like reliving the past all over again. You’ve got to stay strong.”