With this shooting, the outrage came from familiar places, but it was also shared loudly among some on the political right following the release of a video that appears to show the moments leading up to his death, made public weeks after the shooting.
That said, the most prominent voice on the right was less than full-throated on Friday, a day after saying he hadn’t seen the tape. While even many of his allies voiced concern about the horror of the shooting and the apparent lack of an investigation into it, President Trump suggested that there could be more to the story.
“I saw the tape and it’s very, very disturbing,” he said on “Fox and Friends” before sharing his confidence in Georgia’s governor and law enforcement community to address the issue.
“Law enforcement is going to look at it. They’ve got a good governor in the state — very good governor, actually. And he’s going to be looking at it very strongly, and he’s going to do what’s right.”
Trump said the tape was “troubling” but that there “Could be some things that we didn’t see on tape. There could be a lot,” he said, before mentioning that some of the encounter could have been edited out of the recording that went viral.
Georgia’s Republican governor, Brian Kemp, said Thursday sounded more convinced, saying that “right after seeing that horrific video, I told [Georgia Bureau of Investigation] Director [Vic] Reynolds to follow the facts, to follow the truth and to administer justice.”
Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R-Ga.) said Wednesday that she was “deeply concerned” by the killing and that her prayers were with Arbery’s family.
“I anticipate a thorough and rigorous investigation will be conducted, and that it will deliver much-needed clarity and justice in this case,” she said in a statement.
Rep. Douglas A. Collins (R-Ga.), a member of the House Judiciary Committee who is challenging Loeffler for her Senate seat, said Thursday before the arrest that the shooting appeared criminal. “What I saw on the video is disturbing and wrong and looks like a criminal act,” he tweeted. “It must be thoroughly investigated and I can’t imagine why it has taken this long to come to light.”
The response by GOP officials seemed unusual given how conservative lawmakers have responded to previous shootings of unarmed black people in the past. The video that was released Tuesday appears to show two men confronting an unarmed Arbery, but there have been other cases where unarmed black men and boys — such as Walter Scott and Tamir Rice — were killed, and calls for answers weren’t so swift across the board.
Aside from the video, there could be multiple reasons for this.
For one, the two men charged in Arbery’s death are not police officers, although one of them, Gregory McMichael, previously served as a police detective. In our current political climate, a politician’s stance on the relationship between law enforcement and black Americans has largely become a partisan issue. Politicians do not risk being viewed as reflexively against or supportive of police in this incident.
Second, local authorities in Glynn County, Ga., have been aware of this shooting since the day Arbery was killed, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, but decided against pressing charges. It wasn’t until after a graphic video went viral this week that a Georgia prosecutor said a grand jury should review the incident.
McMichael previously worked as an investigator with the district attorney’s office, and that district attorney had recused herself from this case.
And third, during an election year in a state that could swing left, Georgia’s Republican lawmakers showing little interest in a matter that appears to be of great importance to the state’s black residents and their supporters could have political ramifications. Georgia has what’s known as a “jungle primary” — a nonpartisan competition — with the candidate getting the most votes being victorious in the end. That means winning black and liberal supporters could be key.
Although the killing of Arbery brings to mind themes that concern many black Americans — unchecked gun access and racism, among them — it is also different in some ways that are bound to demand more attention than usual.