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DOJ Indicts Men On Hate Crime Charges In Ahmaud Arbery Killing

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The U.S. Justice Department is bringing hate crime charges against the three men who are in custody for the killing of Ahmaud Arbery last year. Arbery was jogging through a Georgia neighborhood in February 2020 when the men allegedly chased him in pickup trucks, confronted him and shot him. All three of the men are white; Arbery was black. Georgia Public Broadcasting's Emily Jones is with us now. Good morning, Emily.

EMILY JONES, BYLINE: Good morning.

MARTIN: Emily, what are these new federal charges exactly? How are they different from the case against these men already?

JONES: Well, before this, they only face state charges, which included murder and assault and false imprisonment charges. But many people on the ground here in Georgia and nationwide have been calling this a hate crime from the very beginning. Here's Ahmaud's aunt, Thea Brooks.

THEA BROOKS: It had to be nothing but hate. And it had to be because of his skin color.

JONES: But Georgia had no state hate crime law on the books at the time of this shooting. So what's new now is a federal grand jury has now indicted them on several federal counts, including using force and threats of force to interfere with Arbery's right to use a public street because of his race. And that is a hate crime. The U.S. Department of Justice has also charged these men with attempted kidnapping as well.

MARTIN: So as we've said, the shooting happened back in February of 2020, but the men charged in his death weren't arrested for several months after that. Explain why.

JONES: So there are a couple of reasons for that. One of the men, Gregory McMichael, worked for a long time as an investigator in the local district attorney's office. So on a practical level, the case went through several district attorneys who had to recuse themselves with conflicts of interest because of that work that he did. And, of course, you know, the accusation from activists and from Arbery's family has also been that there was an attempt to kind of protect their own on the half of law enforcement locally. But then in May of 2020, a couple things happened sort of all at once. This video came out showing the shooting, and that really sparked protests over this. And also right around the same time, state investigators stepped in. And once the state was involved, it only took a couple of days for them to arrest these men.

MARTIN: It's now been more than a year since Ahmaud Arbery was killed, nearly a year since that video came out. Just explain what has happened in that time.

JONES: Well, there have actually been several changes. The DA that I mentioned who Gregory McMichael worked for, she was voted out. Georgia also did pass a hate crime law last summer and also repealed its citizen's arrest law. And both of those legal changes were in response to the protests that broke out over the killing of Ahmaud Arbery.

MARTIN: So the federal case is just beginning. What is next at the state level?

JONES: There isn't a trial date yet, but there are a couple of hearings next month on several motions in that case. And also after a long delay because of COVID-19, Georgia courts are now allowed to hold jury trials again. So all of that does bring this case just a couple steps closer to at some point going to trial.

MARTIN: All right. Georgia Public Broadcasting's Emily Jones, thank you so much for the update. We appreciate it.

JONES: Thank you.

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