The family of Ahmaud Arbery is one step closer to getting justice for the 25-year old Black man who was shot and killed by two White men while jogging in a residential Georgia neighborhood on February 23. In an interview with CNN on Monday (May 25), S. Lee Merritt, one of the attorneys representing the family, said the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) is now investigating the murder as a hate crime.
According to CNN, Merritt learned about the shift in the investigation while meeting with Bobby L. Christine, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of Georgia. The news outlet so far has not been able to reach Christine for comment on the case update.
According to an incident report filed by Glynn County police, Arbery was shot after two men spotted him running in their neighborhood on a Sunday afternoon. Gregory McMichael told police that he and his adult son thought the runner matched the description of someone caught on a security camera committing a recent break-in in the neighborhood. They armed themselves with guns before getting in a truck to pursue him.
The father said his son, Travis McMichael, got out of the truck holding a shotgun, and Arbery “began to violently attack.” He said Arbery was shot as the two men fought over the shotgun, according to the police report.
Arbery’s death caused an uproar across the country after a video of the shooting was released on May 5. Days later, Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr asked the DOJ to investigate the initial handling of this case. “A Department of Justice spokesperson confirmed earlier this month that the Civil Rights Division of the department was assessing the evidence in the case to determine whether federal hate crime charges were appropriate,” CNN reports.
Gregory and Travis McMichael were arrested on May 7 for the shooting death of Arbery. Both face felony murder and aggravated assault charges in Georgia. Last week, William “Roddie” Bryan Jr., the man who recorded Arbery’s death, was arrested on a felony murder charge, according to CNN.
Georgia is one of five states that does not have a hate crime statute.