An unarmed Black man’s murder trial opens up old wounds in a country where white supremacy is no longer a fringe. It will also debate the burning question of whether the crime was committed with a racist intent or not.
Authorities in the US state of Georgia are bracing for protests and rallies as three men accused of chasing and murdering a Black jogger go on trial in a case that has once again highlighted the racial tensions in the country.
Ahmaud Arbery, 25, was out for a run not far from his home in the coastal city of Brunswick, Georgia, when he was shot dead at a close range in February 2020.
The accused men — all white — include Travis McMichael, his father Greg, and their neighbour Willam Bryan who recorded the incident.
Besides the murder charge, they have also been indicted under the hate crime law. According to reports, Travis shouted racial slurs as Arbery lay bleeding on the street. It remains to be seen if prosecutors will use that as evidence against the accused. But the trial is likely to debate a crucial question of whether the defendants were racists or not.
The first phase of the trial, which can take weeks to come to any conclusion, involves a jury selection — a challenge since many people in the town know either the family of the victim or the men accused of his murder.
Jurors are expected to have no previous knowledge of the case or any connection with the participants of the trial.
Arbery was a high school football star and liked to remain fit. Neighbours often saw him jogging near his home.
He was shot dead months before George Flyod, another Black man, was killed by a police officer. Floyd's death sparked massive protests across the US as minorities took to the streets to voice concern against police brutality that disproportionately targets young Black men.
What made Arbery’s case particularly distressing was the delay in the arrest of the accused men.
McMichaels and Bryan were taken into custody and charged two months after the incident and that too only after the video was leaked and it went viral in May last year.
The visual disclosure drew a backlash from human rights activists, raising questions about the impartiality of police, which took weeks to take action against the accused men.
The case was roiled by controversy even before it started after Jackie Johnson, a former white prosecutor in Georgia, was indicted earlier this year for trying to influence the investigation.
Greg, one of the accused in Arbery’s killing, worked as an investigator in Jackson’s office. Police have charged Johnson for trying to stop them from arresting the three accused men.
The case has also brought Georgia’s citizen arrest law under the spotlight. Abolished in response to Arbery’s killing, the law allowed citizens to arrest any individual on mere suspicion.
The law also allowed them to use deadly force against the suspect if they feel threatened - something that lawyers for Travis McMichael, Greg, and Bryan will likely use in their defence during the trial.
But Arbery’s supporters say the episode is nothing less than a daylight lynching of an unarmed Black man who had simply gone out for a jog.
Black people are far more likely to face discrimination in the US, according to multiple studies.
From trying to get health care services to lodging a police complaint, Black people are mistreated on multiple levels.
A survey of more than 3,000 people belonging to the minorities in the US, found that 45 percent of Black people face racial discrimination when they try to rent an apartment or buy a house.
Even an algorithm that hospitals use to refer patients for serious illnesses for further treatment is less likely to refer black people than a white patient.
Greater financial barriers mean that less young Black people are able to graduate from good universities than their white counterparts. They also struggle with finding well paying jobs.
Black men are 2.5 times more likely to be killed by the police than white men.