The mother of Ahmaud Arbery filed a federal civil rights lawsuit on Tuesday against the three men accused of killing her son, a Black man who was chased down and shot dead as he jogged through his Georgia neighbourhood.
The $1m suit, filed by Wanda Cooper-Jones on the anniversary of her son’s death, also names police and other officials who did not initially bring charges in the case. It alleges the killing was racially motivated, stating that the defendants “were motivated to deprive Ahmaud Arbery of equal protection of the law and his rights by bias, animus, (and) discrimination.”
A former Glynn County police officer, Gregory McMichael, 64, and his son Travis, 34, were charged with murder and aggravated assault, but only after state authorities stepped in about two months after the shooting.
Authorities have alleged Travis McMichael, who fired the shots that killed Arbery, previously used racist slurs.
Filed in the US Southern District of Georgia, the suit claims the Glynn County Police Department and prosecutors were part of a “deliberate effort to cover up Ahmaud’s murder,” as one of the accused killers was both a former police officer and investigator for the local district attorney’s office.
Neither Cooper-Jones nor her lawyer Lee Merritt were immediately available for comment to Reuters. The Glynn County Attorney’s office and the Glynn County District Attorney’s office, which oversees the prosecutors, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
A video of the February 23, 2020 death of Arbery, 25, in the coastal city of Brunswick, sparked outrage across the country, with civil rights activists saying it marked yet another example of a targeted attack on a Black man.
A third man, William “Roddie” Bryan, joined the McMichaels in chasing down Arbery, police say, and shot a video of the incident on his phone. The clip appears to show the McMichaels confronting Arbery before the jogger was shot with a shotgun.
Attorneys for the McMichaels were not immediately available, but Kevin Gough, a lawyer for Bryan, said that his client will be vindicated.
“The civil suit, like the criminal case, will show that Mr Bryan acted within the law,” Gough told Reuters.
A candlelight vigil was held on Tuesday night in the Waynesboro, Georgia church where Arbery is buried. Attendees are asked to bring their own candles and wear a blue ribbon in his honour.
Family and friends walked in procession through the coastal subdivision where armed men chased and shot him in the street. Others joined his mother for a vigil at the rural church where he is buried. Lawmakers paused to remember him at the Georgia state Capitol, and President Joe Biden offered thoughts on the slaying of Arbery one year ago.
When the 25-year-old was killed on February 23, 2020, few outside this Georgia port city paid much attention at first. Those closest to Arbery sought to make sure his death is not overlooked again.
“He isn’t going to rest in his grave until we get justice,” Marcus Arbery, Arbery’s father, said on Tuesday evening as he and other family members led a group of about 100 supporters on a memorial march into the Satilla Shores subdivision.
That is where Arbery died bleeding in the street from three close-range shotgun blasts after a white father and son armed themselves and pursued him in a pickup truck upon spotting the young Black man running in their neighbourhood.
In rural Waynesboro, Arbery’s mother, Wanda Cooper-Jones, knelt by her son’s grave outside New Springfield Baptist Church ahead of a candlelight vigil with family and supporters wearing masks and blue ribbons, a nod to Arbery’s favourite colour.
“I wouldn’t say that I’ve healed much,” Cooper-Jones told WRDW-TV before the vigil. “I’ve learned to take it day by day, sometimes hour by hour.”
At the Georgia state Capitol in Atlanta, Democratic lawmakers joined civil rights activists to mark the anniversary, which also got a mention from the White House.
“A Black man should be able to go for a jog without fearing for his life,” Biden tweeted Tuesday. “Today, we remember Ahmaud Arbery’s life and we dedicate ourselves to making this country safer for people of color.”
Arbery’s killing helped spark the national movement for racial justice that swept the US last year. His name was often featured on signs at Black Lives Matter protests, alongside George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and more.