Ahmaud Arbery’s Killer Would Prefer Court Not Remind Jury He’s A Gross Racist
Georgia father-son lynching duo Gregory and Travis McMichael are on trial for the senseless murder of Ahmaud Arbery. When your fate is up to a jury of your less homicidal peers, you try to set a good impression. You show up every day in a suit. You don't giggle randomly during testimony. And if you're Travis McMichael, you don't want the jury knowing how much of an obvious racist you are.
McMichael and his attorneys have asked that the court ban from use as evidence at trial a photo of his license plate, which bears the Confederate emblem. The Confederacy lasted all of four years more than 150 years ago, but these losers can't abandon the cause.
The vanity plate is described as showing the old flag from the state of Georgia—out of use since 2001—that incorporates the Confederate battle flag. McMichael's attorneys argued that using the photo of his plate as evidence is "not relevant and is prejudicial."
McMichael's choice in vanity plates is extremely relevant. He's 34 years old. Georgia replaced its state flag after much debate 20 years ago when he was barely in high school. He's deliberately made open defiance of racial progress a part of his identity. It's fair for us to judge him for this.
More to the point, the plates were on McMichael's truck when he and his father hunted down Arbery like an animal. They were in plain sight and Arbery would've seen it. According to Gregory McMichael's own self-serving account in the police report, he and his son shouted, "Stop, stop, we want to talk to you!" The visible Confederate flag might've led Arbery to assume the conversation wouldn't be productive.
It's also absurd for McMichael to claim the photo is “prejudicial." The flag wasn't hanging in the basement of his private home. It was on the front of his very public truck. He purchased the vanity plates and paid an annual fee for the privilege of telling everyone he's an asshole.
The state's attorneys more or less laughed derisively at McMichael's motion to exclude the plates:
Defendant Travis McMichael's choice, and the fact that this vanity plate was on the front of his pick-up truck on Feb. 23, 2020, are intrinsic evidence in this case and can be fully used by the State to illustrate the intent and motive of Travis McMichael.
If McMichael is so worried that his own vanity plate is “prejudicial" evidence, maybe he shouldn't have tried to make his truck resemble the General Lee from the Dukes of Hazzard (still a cool car, all the racism aside).
Some relevant history: Georgia's flag was changed in 1956 to incorporate the traitor emblem. This was in obvious response to the 1954 Supreme Court Brown v. Board of Education decision that desegregated public schools. Civil rights activists and Black legislators fought for decades to have the emblem removed. A compromise was reached in 2001, following a tense legislative battle, and a new flag flew over the state capitol for a couple years. It was finally put to a vote in 2004, and Georgians could choose between the “compromise" flag and a new flag. The new flag prevailed.
However, as Time Magazine reports, the current Georgia state flag is almost identical to the actual Confederate flag, which is different from the “battle" flag you might recall from Trump rallies. The Confederacy was never an actual country just a rebel insurgency, so the “actual" flag is like a "fantasy nation" flag.
Actual Confederate Flag
Current Georgia Flag
The Confederate battle flag soon replaced the imaginary nation flag because it was more easily distinguished from the Stars and Stripes. When you saw the battle flag, even from a great distance, you knew whoever held it up didn't believe in America and would kill to preserve a brutal system of racial oppression. The flag still conveys that message, and it's one Ahmaud Arbery understood all too well.
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Stephen Robinson is a writer and social kibbitzer based in Portland, Oregon. He writes reviews for the A.V. Club and make believe for Cafe Nordo, an immersive theatre space in Seattle. He's also on the board of the Portland Playhouse theatre. His son describes him as a “play typer guy."