This editorial has been updated.
WHAT IF Ahmaud Arbery had been white? What if the two men who confronted Mr. Arbery before one of them shot and killed him had been black? What if the graphic video showing a young man needlessly gunned down while on a Sunday afternoon jog had not been anonymously posted to the Internet but, instead, had been kept hidden?
We all know the terrible answers. Had Mr. Arbery not been black, it would not have taken law enforcement authorities in Georgia more than two months to be shamed into seeking some semblance of justice in his killing. The announcement by a Georgia prosecutor that the case would be presented to a grand jury for consideration of criminal charges against the two men involved in the shooting came Tuesday, the same day that a video of the Feb. 23 shooting surfaced, sparking outrage and reigniting America’s debate about whether black lives matter. The arrest of the two men came two days later.
The 36-second video is difficult to watch. Taken from inside a vehicle, it shows the unarmed, 25-year-old Mr. Arbery jogging on a residential road when he comes upon a white truck stopped in the street. One white man is standing in the bed of the pickup and another beside its open driver’s-side door. Both are armed, one with a shotgun. Mr. Arbery runs around the truck and disappears from view before he reemerges. There is muffled shouting and three shots sound as Mr. Arbery tussles with the man with the shotgun before he stumbles and falls on the road. There is blood on his shirt.
The two men are father and son. The father, Gregory McMichael, is a former police officer and retired investigator in the local district attorney’s office who told police he and his son chased Mr. Arbery because he resembled a suspect in a rash of recent break-ins. The video appears to contradict portions of that account, and the handling of the case doesn’t inspire confidence. Police apparently limited their investigation to interviewing Mr. McMichael, while a prosecutor concluded that the men had acted legally under Georgia’s citizen arrest and self-defense statutes. Authorities obtained a video of the incident but refused to share it with Mr. Arbery’s family. They seemed more upset that the video that appeared on the Internet had been posted than with its gut-wrenching contents.
The arrest of the father and son came after the outcry caused by the release of the video and the intervention of state officials. “All I want to do is get justice for my son,” said Marcus Arbery, the slain man’s father. “This is terrible. It could happen to anybody’s kid.” We would add: especially, and tragically, if they are black.