Ahmaud Arbery: Self Defense or Murder?

Ahmaud Arbery:

Self Defense or Murder?

It has taken me 2 weeks to write this article and indeed, I scrapped the first draft. This is because I want to be clear about what I am saying and do the subject justice.

To begin with, I should explain my background and what qualifies me to write about this. I have worked in private security or related fields for close to 30 years. I have extensive experience and training in the Private Security field. I have worked as both an armed and unarmed security officer and I have made numerous citizens arrests during my career. This background gives me a unique perspective with regards to the tragic death of Ahmaud Arbery.

I am going to try to stick with the facts as we now know them, and on the claims by Gregory and Travis McMichael that they were attempting to affect arrest and shot Ahmaud Arbery in self-defense.

We know that on 23FEB20, Ahmaud Arbery was jogging through the neighborhood of Satilla Shores. While he was jogging, he was seen by Gregory McMichael, who thought he matched the description of a man who had allegedly been involved in break-ins prior to 23FEB. After seeing Mr. Arbery, Gregory McMichael called 911 and reported a black man running through his neighborhood. At about the same time he notified his son Travis and the two grabbed firearms, got into Travis’ truck and pursued Mr. Arbery.

At some point, they tried to get Mr. Arbery to stop before pulling ahead of him. Once they had gone ahead of him, Travis gets out of the vehicle, moves to the front of it, while Gregory stood in the back. On the video, we see Ahmaud try to run around the vehicle where we briefly lose sight of him, but a shot can be heard before we see Travis McMichael and Ahmaud Arbery come back into view struggling over the shotgun. Then we can hear two more shots and Ahmaud staggers away before collapsing onto the pavement, motionless.

Now, I am not going to get into Mr. Arbery’s criminal history; nor am I going to discuss the video showing him at a construction site. These are distractions and have no relevance to the claims by Gregory and Travis McMichael. What I AM going to focus on are the actions of the McMichael’s leading up to and including the fatal shooting.

When Gregory McMichael saw Ahmaud Arbery “Hauling Ass” down the road, his first impulse as a former Law Enforcement Officer was to pursue him. Yes, he called 911 but he also called his son (who he called first is debated). The two of them took it upon themselves to arm up and pursue Ahmaud Arbery…for four minutes.

As a private security professional, I can assure you that this doesn’t meet the standard for a citizen’s arrest. While I live in Oregon, the laws in Georgia are not dissimilar. So, for reference, I am going to quote Georgia’s statute on Citizens Arrest:

“2010 Georgia Code
§ 17-4-60 – Grounds for arrest

O.C.G.A. 17-4-60 (2010)
17-4-60. Grounds for arrest

A private person may arrest an offender if the offense is committed in his presence or within his immediate knowledge. If the offense is a felony and the offender is escaping or attempting to escape, a private person may arrest him upon reasonable and probable grounds of suspicion.”

Now, under that law, a private citizen must believe that the person they are arresting has committed a crime in his/her presence or immediate knowledge. At the time they decided to confront Ahmaud Arbery, not only had Mr. Arbery not committed a crime they had no knowledge that any crime had occurred.

Now we go to the second part of that which is that if the offense is a FELONY that a person may arrest on reasonable and probable grounds or suspicion. These were likewise absent in this case. Now grounds for arrest existed at the time they chose to pursue Mr. Arbery.

I should also note that at the time Travis McMichael engaged Mr. Arbery; he was also brandishing a shotgun. This would not be a justifiable use of deadly force. Even had Ahmaud Arbery committed a crime, the use of deadly force to affect arrest was clearly not justifiable.

Now here’s where the self defense claim comes in. There’s two parts to this so I’ll unpack them both.  Gregory McMichael supposedly saw Ahmaud a few nights before and during that encounter, Ahmaud supposedly reached into his pants as if for a gun. The second part comes into play, apparently over the struggle for the shotgun (after it had already been fired once).

Now, I want to stress on the importance of what can be seen in the video. At the time of the shooting, the McMichaels had already driven past Ahmaud and Travis had already exited the vehicle with the shotgun, waiting near the front of the vehicle, while Gregory stood in the back of the pickup with a .357 revolver. This creates more of an appearance of an ambush than a citizen’s arrest.

The fact that they took the time to grab their weapons before engaging in the pursuit also shows a degree of premeditation. At the time there was no reasonable suspicion that a crime had been committed or that that any lives were in danger. By this time 911 had been called and were presumably en route.

As a former LEO, I would think that Gregory McMichael would want to be a trained observer so as to be a good witness. But alas, that is not what happened here. So, to recap, we have no reasonable suspicion of a crime, lives are NOT endangered and no duty or responsibility to act.

This is, or should be, the starting point in trying to decide whether the shooting was a justified use of deadly force.

When making the claim of Self Defense, you must reasonably be in fear for your life. Generally speaking, you cannot have sought out the confrontation that places you in fear for your life. When you actively seek out a confrontation, you go from being the victim, to becoming the aggressor. At that point, your claim of self defense evaporates, and you no longer have a legal justification for the use of deadly force.

The moment that Gregory and Travis McMichael made a conscious choice to pursue and confront Ahmaud Arbery, they became the aggressors and lost the right to claim self-defense. They crossed a line making their use of deadly force a case of murder.

With the right to keep and bear arms, comes an obligation to educate yourself on when it is legal and justified to use deadly force. For example, I have passed a Concealed Carry course, my Armed Security Professional qualifications and I have joined USCCA. By joining that organization, I have access to a voluminous library of articles and video training so that I would be better educated and knowledgeable on the legal use of deadly force.

Many labor under the misbegotten belief that merely saying you feared for your life, or that you acted in self defense is a sort of ‘Get out of jail free’ card. It isn’t! Because when one uses deadly force, there will be an investigation and the facts will eventually come out. If you weren’t legally justified, you will go to prison.

That is precisely what happened in this case. The McMichaels crossed that line by actively seeking a confrontation with Ahmaud Arbery. As a result of that, their claim of self defense falls woefully flat and is completely invalid.

It is my sincerest hope that my fellow gun owners and 2nd Amendment advocates will recognize this fact and condemn this shooting. Because honestly? If you are defending the McMichael’s use of force as legitimate, not only do you need to educate yourself; you are also doing serious harm to the cause of 2nd Amendment rights.