Racist and violent evidence presented in federal trial against Ahmaud Arbery’s killers
There was a text from Travis McMichael, complaining about black people at a local restaurant. “Cracker Barrel name needs to be changed to N****r Bucket,” he wrote.
There was a video, shared by McMichael on Facebook, of a black boy dancing on The Ellen DeGeneres Show, the original music cut out and swapped for the racist song “Alabama N****r” by Johnny Rebel. The music continued for an uncomfortably long time, the dehumanizing lyrics blasting through the courtroom like something from a blackfaced minstrel show.
A comment under a video of Black Lives Matter protesters, in which McMichael wanted a semi-automatic rifle in order to shoot people he described as “fucking monkeys”, and another post advocating driving in a group of black people with a vehicle.
Even a text conversation between McMichael and a friend about zoodles — that is, noodles made from zucchini — involved the N-word.
“Is this the only proof, or are there others? asked the prosecutor.
“There were more,” replied the witness, FBI agent Amy Vaughn.
Vaughn had analyzed the contents of cellphones and social media accounts for the government, building his case against McMichael; her father, Greg McMichael; and neighbor William “Roddie” Bryan, who are on trial for violating Ahmaud Arbery’s civil rights when they chased him down a public street and shot him while he was running on February 23, 2020.
The three men were previously convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison at a state trial last year. Now federal prosecutors are trying to prove that the McMichaels and Bryan sued Arbery because of his race, violating his right to use a public road. In opening statements Monday, prosecutor Bobbi Bernstein said the defendants’ texts and social media evidence would prove the government’s case.
Investigators were unable to obtain Greg McMichael’s cellphone records due to phone encryption, but pointed to a few Facebook posts, including a status update that said “a gun in the hand is worth more than an entire police force on the phone”.
McMichaels laughed at the intrusion during the hunt
Prosecutors also released video of the father and son laughing about trespassing on private property while hunting, laughing that “there’s private property and then there’s private property, you know?”
The McMichaels tried to defend their actions against Arbery as justified because Arbery was seen trespassing on private property — a house under construction in the neighborhood.
Bryan’s text records show, according to Vaughn, “a multi-year pattern” of making derogatory comments about black people on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, and WhatsApp messages about Bryan’s daughter’s new black boyfriend. Bryan, including a message in which his daughter writes passionately that race doesn’t matter and begs her father to understand.
“I always told him that was the one thing I couldn’t accept,” Bryan wrote to a friend. A day after killing Arbery, Bryan texted the friend again, again about the falling out with his daughter.
Defense attorneys briefly argued that some of the racist comments were taken out of context, but declined extensive cross-examination. In their opening statements, defense attorneys admitted that the three men had made very racist remarks, but that racial slurs are not illegal.
“I’m not going to ask you to like Travis McMichael,” attorney Amy Lee Copeland told jurors, saying they should review the evidence and find him innocent.