Church holds vigil honoring Ahmaud Arbery; new video shows moments before his death

A cross with flowers and a letter A sits at the entrance to the Satilla Shores neighborhood where Ahmaud Arbery was shot and killed on Feb. 23 in Brunswick, Georgia, on May 7, 2020. | Sean Rayford/Getty Images

Days after 25-year-old Ahmaud Arbery was shot dead in Georgia, Christians and activists held a vigil at a church in Columbia, South Carolina, on Sunday to draw attention to gun violence against black people. Meanwhile, a new video was released and appears to show the moments leading up to the victim’s death.

Around 30 cars participated in “The Peace Vigil Support & Caravan” held at Sidney Park CME Church, following social distancing rules to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus, according to The State.

The cars honked their horn three times as they passed the church, symbolizing the three times Arbery was shot while jogging unarmed on Feb. 23 in Brunswick, Georgia.

“When I saw the actual footage, I was brought to tears and was saddened with emotion. I said this is enough,” said the Rev. James Smith, the pastor at the church, who was one of the organizers. “The narrative that people of color are more suspicious or dangerous than their white counterparts when doing normal activities must be changed.”

“It is time for it to stop,” said Oveta Glover, president of the Columbia Branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. “We talk about it but we don’t do anything about it. This is a step in doing something about it. Bringing awareness is the first step. It is just to open up the ears of people to hear about what is being said in honor of all of those who have fallen.”

A video of the February shooting was released last week, stirring outrage across the nation. On Thursday, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation arrested retired police detective Gregory McMichael and his son, Travis, on charges of murder and aggravated assault. 

The elder McMichael told investigators he thought Arbery had been involved in burglaries in the neighborhood. However, police records show there were no recent reports of house burglaries in that neighborhood.

The GBI is reviewing a new video, which appears to be from a home surveillance camera about a block from the shooting and was recorded minutes before the killing, according to Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

“We are using video to put the timeline together to fill in the blanks of what happened that afternoon,” Scott Dutton, GBI’s Deputy Director of investigations, was quoted as saying.

The video shows a man, who appears to be Arbery, walking down Satilla Drive and into the garage of a house under construction. The man then walks around the back of the house but does not appear to take anything from that house. Another man walks and appears to be observing the construction site. Then a car passes, and the figure that appears to be Arbery comes out of a front door of the house and runs down the road in the direction of Travis McMichael’s home.

Arbery’s family lawyers released a statement about the video.

“This video is consistent with the evidence already known to us. Ahmaud Arbery was out for a jog. He stopped by a property under construction where he engaged in no illegal activity and only remained for a brief period. Ahmaud did not take anything from the construction site. He did not cause any damage to the property. He remained for a brief period of time and was not instructed by anyone to leave, but rather left on his own accord to continue his jog,” they said. 

“Ahmaud’s actions at this empty home under construction were in no way a felony under Georgia law. This video confirms that Mr. Arbery’s murder was not justified and the actions of the men who pursued him and ambushed him were unjustified. We reiterate, Ahmaud Arbery did not take part in ANY felony, had no illegal substances in his system, was not armed yet was shot three times with a shotgun at close range,” they added.

The first video that was released showed Arbery running at a jogger’s pace on a road in the neighborhood, slowing down as he neared Travis McMichael’s truck, which had blocked the street in front of him. The McMichaels appeared to confront Arbery and three shots were fired. Arbery collapsed.

Law enforcement officials waited for over two months to arrest the suspects.

Arbery’s family and friends joined hundreds of community members Saturday for a vigil in Brunswick to celebrate his life, according to CBS19. Arbery would have turned 26 on Friday.

“Thank you all for your love because without you guys, his story would've never been heard,” Arbery’s sister told the crowd. “We came here for a celebration and to wish Ahmaud a happy, happy birthday.”

On Friday, hundreds gathered at the Glynn County Courthouse, demanding justice in Arbery’s death.

Russell Moore and David French are among the conservative and Christian leaders who have publicly condemned the killing.

In a lengthy op-ed, Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, the public policy arm of the Southern Baptist Convention, said that “under any Christian vision of justice, there is no situation in which the mob murder of a person can be morally right, nor grounds for a person to be chased down and shot by private citizens.”

Moore called on Christians to fight the tendency to “avert our eyes” from the incident.

In an op-ed, David French, evangelical author and editor of The Dispatch, said Arbery’s killers should be arrested and tried for murder.

“Their vigilante action looks less like the heroic actions of armed citizens upholding the law and more like an old-time posse, executing a vile form of street justice on a young, unarmed black man,” he wrote. “It’s also worth remembering that the long and evil history of American lynchings features countless examples of young black men hunted and killed by white gangs who claimed their victims had committed crimes,” French said.

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