DA Who Shrugged Off Ahmaud Arbery’s Lynching Once Tried To Hang Black Granny For Daylight Voting Heist
After Gregory and Travis McMichael killed Ahmaud Arbery in cold blood, the system designed specifically to protect white men kicked into overdrive. Brunswick, Georgia, District Attorney Jackie Johnson reportedly prevented the Glynn County Police Department from arresting the McMichael klan.
From the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:
"The police at the scene went to her, saying they were ready to arrest both of them. These were the police at the scene who had done the investigation," Commissioner Allen Booker, who has spoken with Glynn County police, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "She shut them down to protect her friend [Greg] McMichael."
Greg McMichael, a former police officer, used to work in Johnson's office. He might've been a great employee -- the kind of guy who brings in fresh doughnuts at the end of a tough week -- but that doesn't excuse obstructing justice, especially if you're in the criminal justice profession.
Johnson released a BS-laced statement this weekend that tried to pin the blame on the Glynn County police.
Under Georgia law, the District Attorney has no arrest powers. Rather it is the duty and obligation of the law enforcement officer to determine probable cause for arrest. The District Attorney is available to advise on the law. Our District Attorney's office's willingness to be available to advise law enforcement officers on matters of law is now being used by the Glynn County Police Department as an excuse to pass the buck and fail to act.
I'd find this argument more compelling if I hadn't seen countless "Law & Order" episodes where one of the district attorneys tells the detectives, “Pick 'em up!" Maybe “Georgia law" is different when it involves covering up lynchings.
The Glynn County police responded to Johnson's “what me, DA?" nonsense with a detailed timeline of events. It offers a peek into a world where killing an unarmed black man is like getting into a fender-bender in a Savannah, Georgia, Kroger parking lot.
On Sunday, February 23, 2020, two calls were received at the Glynn-Brunswick 911 Center between 1:08pm and 1:15pm involving activity that was reported as suspicious in the Satilla Shores neighborhood located off US-17 in Glynn County. The Glynn County Police Department responded to the calls. Gun shots were heard by the responding officer upon arrival to the Satilla Shores neighborhood. Shortly thereafter, the location of the gun shots was identified, and an ambulance was called. The Glynn County Police Department immediately began investigative activities. Detectives arrived on the scene at approximately 1:45pm.
Travis McMichael and Greg McMichael were brought to Glynn County Police Headquarters for questioning at approximately 3:30pm on February 23rd. Glynn County Police Officers sought the legal advice of the Brunswick District Attorney's Office in reference to possible charges. At that point, the DA's office became involved in the investigation. The DA's office advised that there needed to be further follow up and the detectives would be contacted the following day by the DA from the Waycross Judicial Circuit. The McMichaels were deemed not to be flight risks and officers were advised by the DA's office that no arrests were necessary at the time.
The McMichaels knew the fix was in, so there probably wasn't a risk they'd skip town. The case, which is not a mystery, was kicked over to Ware County prosecutor George E. Barnhill, who determined in just a few hours that Arbery's death was “justifiable homicide." He based this solely on Gregory and Travis McMichael's own self-serving accomplice testimony, a major element of which was later proven untrue. (There were no recent break-ins in their neighborhood.)
Detectives met with DA George Barnhill, Sr. of the Waycross Judicial Circuit the following day and reviewed their findings with him. DA Barnhill, Sr. advised detectives before noon on February, 24th that the act was justifiable homicide and for detectives to continue their investigation and provide him with lab reports and any additional pertinent information. The autopsy results were received by the Glynn County Police Department on April 1st and immediately forwarded to DA Barnhill, Sr.
Barnhill wasn't trying to crack this case. He planned to bury it. An awful lot of white people are shocked whenever black people break this to them, but if you're involved in a potential criminal act, the police and the DA aren't your friends. It's not their job to clear you of wrongdoing and send you home with a plush toy, like you were brave and let the doctor give you your mumps shot.
This was straight-up Jim Crow shit.
Barnhill also isn't the DA of Mayberry, as your Republican relatives -- even the nice ones! -- might suggest on your Facebook page. He's not shy about sending motherfuckers to jail. In 2012, he indicted black civil rights activist Olivia Pearson on felony vote fraud charges. Barnhill went full Javert on the grandmother and took her to trial twice before she was acquitted. He threatened her with 15 years in prison for the so-called "felonious" act of helping someone who didn't know how to use an electronic voting machine.
From Mother Jones:
On the first day of early voting that year, during a visit to the local elections office, a 21-year-old Black woman named Diewanna Robinson asked Pearson for assistance with the electronic voting machine. Pearson says she told Robinson where to insert her card into the machine, and instructed her to follow the prompts. Pearson then walked away before Robinson began filling out her ballot.
Pearson didn't think much of the encounter—but it would come back to haunt her. Four years later, after a voter fraud investigation by the secretary of state's office, Barnhill's office decided to have Pearson arrested for the incident. When Pearson assisted Robinson, poll workers had asked her to sign a form allowing her to help someone struggling with the machines; she did so, not realizing that by adding her signature, she was agreeing to help only those who were disabled or illiterate. (Robinson was neither.)
Pearson made a mistake. It wasn't malicious. There was no criminal intent. Barnhill wouldn't extend Pearson the same benefit of doubt he later showered on Gregory and Travis McMichael. There's compelling evidence that Barnhill -- who I can only picture dressed in an all-white suit like a less charming Boss Hogg -- persecuted Pearson, at a great toll to her health, because of her political activism. (Coretta Scott King accused Jeff Sessions of the same racist shit.)
She was the first Black woman elected to the city commission in 1999. Her mother was a top official with the local NAACP and helped sue the city in the 1970s to gain better political representation for Black residents.
When clearing the McMichaels, Barnhill claimed the autopsy report proved that Arbery's wounds were consistent with grabbing Travis McMichael's shotgun. They are also consistent with Arbery defending himself from an armed sociopath. Barnhill left no stone unturned when defending the populace from a black woman who helps other black women vote, but when a black man is dead, he loses all his prosecutorial zeal. It reminds me of a Richard Pryor routine:
They ain't never found nobody who shot [the black man] and they didn't look! They found 822 guns and a dead [black man].They said, “Well, I guess that case is solved. He committed suicide."
Gregory and Travis McMichael are symptoms of a terminal disease, but Johnson and Barnhill are part of a system that nurtures the sickness until it becomes a festering cancer. Ahmaud Arbery isn't the first or last victim, but we can make sure that Johnson and Barnhill do no further harm.
It's time for both of them to go.
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Stephen Robinson is a writer and social kibbitzer based in Portland, Oregon. He's on the board of the Portland Playhouse theater and writes for the immersive theater Cafe Nordo in Seattle. Tickets are on sale now for his latest Nordo collaboration, "Curiouser and Curiouser," an adaptation of "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" and "Through the Looking Glass." It promises to feel like an actual evening with SER (for good or for ill).