The McMichaels can't be charged with a hate crime by the state in the shooting death of Ahmaud Arbery because the law doesn't exist in Georgia

horecchio@businessinsider.com (Haven Orecchio-Egresitz)
·4 min read

 

This photo combo of images taken Thursday, May 7, 2020, and provided by the Glynn County Detention Center, in Georgia, show Gregory McMichael, left, and his son Travis McMichael. The two have been charged with murder in the February shooting death of Ahmaud Arbery, whom they had pursued in a truck after spotting him running in their neighborhood. (Glynn County Detention Center via AP)
Gregory McMichael, left, and his son Travis McMichael. The two have been charged with murder in the February shooting death of Ahmaud Arbery, whom they had pursued in a truck after spotting him running in their neighborhood.

Associated Press

  • Georgia is one of four states without a hate crime law.

  • Its previous law was struck down in 2004 after the state's Supreme Court found it "unconstitutionally broad." 

  • The February killing of Ahmaud Arbery, an unarmed black man who was shot dead while jogging, has reignited calls for new legislation. 

  • Visit Insider's homepage for more stories.

Gregory and Travis McMichael were arrested Thursday in the shooting death of 25-year-old Ahmaud Arbery, an unarmed black man who was jogging in a Brunswick, Georgia. 

Each of the men faces murder and aggregated assault charges. While many, including attorneys for Arbery, believe that the shooting was racially motivated, the father and son won't be facing possible state hate crime charges.

That's because "there's no hate crime in Georgia," Georgia Bureau of Investigations Director Vic Reynolds said in a press conference Friday.

Georgia is one of four states — the others are South Carolina, Wyoming, and Arkansas — that have no hate crime laws.

A hate crime is an offense like murder, arson, or vandalism with an added element of bias, according to the FBI, which prosecutes federal hate crimes. 

Ahmaud Arbery
Ahmaud Arbery was exercising in his neighborhood at about 1 p.m. on February 23 when he was shot.

I RUN WITH MAUD/Facebook

Arbery was exercising in his neighborhood at about 1 p.m. on February 23.

Gregory McMichaels, a 64-year-old former police officer and district attorney's office investigator, and his son Travis, 34, followed him down the street. 

A video taken by a neighbor of the McMichaels, William Bryan, shows Travis confronting Arbery with a gun. Gunshots then ring out and Arbery stumbles and falls to his death. 

In a police report from the day of the shooting, Gregory McMichael said that he pursued Arbery because he resembled a man believed to be responsible for local break-ins. 

The Brunswick News, however, reported that only one burglary was reported in the area from the start of 2020 to the day Arbery died.

"This murderous father and son duo took the law into their own hands," Arbery's family's attorney, Benjamin Crump, said. "It's a travesty of justice that they enjoyed their freedom for 74 days after taking the life of a young black man who was simply jogging."

ahmaud arbery protest
Demonstrators protest the shooting death of Ahmaud Arbery at the Glynn County Courthouse on May 8, 2020 in Brunswick, Georgia. Gregory McMichael and Travis McMichael were arrested the previous night and charged with murder.

Sean Rayford/Getty Images

Arbery's killing has sparked new pressure for a state hate crime in Georgia

In 2004, the Georgia Supreme Court struck down a hate crimes law passed four years earlier, saying it was "unconstitutionally vague" and so broad that it would even apply to a rabid sports fan picking on somebody wearing a rival team's cap, according to the Associated Press. 

Bills that would have brought Georgia in line with a federal statute, which was passed in 2009, failed to make it through the state legislature.

A hate crime bill passed the Georgia House last year by a 96-64 vote with the support of several influential suburban Republicans. But it was stalled in the state senate, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Conservative critics said they were skeptical about the need for additional penalties for crimes that already carry hefty sentences, the paper reported. 

Arbery's killing, however, reignited calls for hate crime legislation in the state. 

In a statement to the Journal-Constitution, Gov. Brian Kemp said that "conversations about legislation are already underway, and we will work through the process when the General Assembly reconvenes" in June. 

"If this doesn't show us that we ought to have a hate-crimes law, I don't know what will," state Sen. Harold Jones, an Augusta Democrat and member of the Georgia Legislative Black Caucus, told the Journal-Constitution. "We need to step up in the Senate and make sure this gets passed."

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