President Joe Biden on Wednesday reacted to guilty verdicts in a Georgia state courtroom against the three defendants who now stand convicted of murdering Ahmaud Arbery. Biden said the “fight for racial justice” was far from over and said Americans should be committed to a future “where no one fears violence because of the color of their skin.” Arbery was Black; the three defendants are white.
Biden issued the comments despite the pending federal hate crime prosecutions against the very same three defendants on charges directly related to Arbery’s race. Travis McMichael, his father Greg McMichael, and neighbor William “Roddie” Bryan still face one count of interference with rights and with one count of attempted kidnapping in federal court. The McMichaels are also charged separately with “using, carrying, and brandishing — and in Travis’s case, discharging — a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence,” the DOJ said earlier this year.
The federal indictment is entirely separate from and in addition to Wednesday’s state court conviction.
The DOJ explained the indictment this way when it was issued back in late April:
Counts One and Two of the indictment allege that the defendants used force and threats of force to intimidate and interfere with Arbery’s right to use a public street because of his race. Specifically, Count One of the indictment alleges that as Arbery was running on a public street in the Satilla Shores neighborhood of Brunswick, Georgia, Travis and Gregory McMichael armed themselves with firearms, got into a truck, and chased Arbery through the public streets of the neighborhood while yelling at him, using their truck to cut off his route, and threatening him with firearms. Count One also alleges that the offense resulted in Arbery’s death. Count Two alleges that William “Roddie” Bryan joined the chase and used his truck to cut off Arbery’s route.
In addition to the hate-crime charges, Count Three alleges that all three defendants attempted to unlawfully seize and confine Arbery by chasing after him in their trucks in an attempt to restrain him, restrict his free movement, corral and detain him against his will, and prevent his escape. Counts Four and Five allege that during the course of the crime of violence charged in Count One, Travis used, carried, brandished, and discharged a Remington shotgun, and Gregory used, carried, and brandished a .357 Magnum revolver.
The full statement Biden issued on Wednesday is below:
Ahmaud Arbery’s killing – witnessed by the world on video – is a devastating reminder of how far we have to go in the fight for racial justice in this country. Mr. Arbery should be here today, celebrating the holidays with his mother, Wanda Cooper Jones, and his father, Marcus Arbery. Nothing can bring Mr. Arbery back to his family and to his community, but the verdict ensures that those who committed this horrible crime will be punished.
While the guilty verdicts reflect our justice system doing its job, that alone is not enough. Instead, we must recommit ourselves to building a future of unity and shared strength, where no one fears violence because of the color of their skin. My administration will continue to do the hard work to ensure that equal justice under law is not just a phrase emblazoned in stone above the Supreme Court, but a reality for all Americans.
Biden’s comments on high-profile cases over the course of his first year as president have raised eyebrows in the past. In April, the president commented on the case against Derek Chauvin in the murder of George Floyd, Jr., while the jury was deliberating Chauvin’s fate. The comments came despite chastisements from Peter Cahill, Chauvin’s trial judge, aimed at other politicians, such as Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), that such comments could potentially reach the ears of jurors.
“I wish elected officials would stop talking about this case, especially in a manner that is disrespectful to the rule of law and to the judicial branch and our function,” Cahill said at the time. “I think if they want to give their opinions, they should do so in a respectful and in a manner that is consistent with their oath to the Constitution.”
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki suggested Biden’s comments about the Chauvin case were unlikely to cause harm because the jury was sequestered. While many legal experts ripped Biden’s verbosity on the closely watched decision, most admitted that it was unlikely to result in an appealable issue.
Biden has also flubbed constitutional issues at press conferences, and both Kyle Rittenhouse and the Rittenhouse family have called out the president for speaking about the teen’s case long before his jury was seated. After Rittenhouse’s acquittal, Biden was criticized for saying he was “angry and concerned” about the verdict even as he said “we must acknowledge that the jury has spoken.”
The federal case against the McMichaels and Bryan has gained little traction outside of motions for discovery and other ministerial matters. The case has been delayed significantly due to the defendants’ pending state court trial.
The federal cases are scheduled for a hearing on Dec. 20, the docket indicates.
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