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Hate Crimes Trial in Arbery Killing: Live Updates

ImageThe prosecution detailed offensive language used by Travis McMichael, Greg McMichael and William Bryan to describe Black people. 
The prosecution detailed offensive language used by Travis McMichael, Greg McMichael and William Bryan to describe Black people. Credit…Pool photo by Stephen B. Morton

A federal prosecutor opened the hate crimes trial of Ahmaud Arbery’s killers on Monday afternoon by describing racist views that the three men had previously expressed, in some cases by using the coarsest of slurs.

The men, who were convicted of murder in a state court last year, had made erroneous assumptions about Mr. Arbery, the prosecutor said, because of the color of his skin.

“At the end of the day, the evidence in this case will prove that if Ahmaud Arbery had been white, he would have gone for a jog, checked out a house under construction and been home in time for Sunday supper. Instead he went out for a jog, and he ended up running for his life. Instead he ended up bleeding to death, alone and scared, in the middle of the street.”

The opening statement by Bobbi Bernstein, a lawyer with the Justice Department’s civil rights division, laid out in the starkest terms the racism that the government believes to be at the heart of the decision by the three men — Gregory McMichael, 66, his son Travis McMichael, 36, and their neighbor William Bryan, 52 — to pursue Mr. Arbery, a 25-year-old Black man, through their neighborhood on the afternoon of Feb. 23, 2020.

Ms. Bernstein recounted the harrowing five-minute chase by truck through the neighborhood, which ended when the younger Mr. McMichael shot Mr. Arbery, who was unarmed, at close range with a Remington shotgun.

The McMichaels, Ms. Bernstein said, were operating on a number of false assumptions when they suspected Mr. Arbery of committing a series of break-ins in their neighborhood. She noted that Gregory McMichael told police officers, shortly after the shooting, that Mr. Arbery had “broken into multiple houses over and over” and had probably stolen a gun from his son’s truck.

None of that, Ms. Bernstein said, was true.

Ms. Bernstein also laid out some of the evidence of the men’s racist thinking — thinking that the prosecution will use to buttress the argument that the men chased Mr. Arbery because he was Black.

She said Travis McMichael referred to Black people as “animals,” “criminals,” “monkeys,” “subhuman savages” and “niggers,” including in an electronic exchange with a friend who had sent a video of a Black man sticking a firecracker up his nose.

It would have been “cooler,” Mr. McMichael replied, using a racial slur, if the firecracker had blown the man’s head off.

Ms. Bernstein, in her arguments, repeated the racial epithets aloud, underscoring the ugliness of the men’s language. Although some of the evidence had been foreshadowed in court documents, it was jarring to hear it spoken for the first time in open court.

Ms. Bernstein also described a time that Gregory McMichael had ranted against Black people to a work colleague and described his animosity toward the civil rights leader Julian Bond, who had recently died.

The prosecutor also said that Mr. Bryan, just days before the chase of Mr. Arbery, had used a racist slur when referring to a Black man that his daughter had been dating, and called him a monkey.

Ms. Bernstein said that Mr. Bryan knew nothing about Mr. Arbery’s visits to a house under construction in the neighborhood — one of the main reasons that the McMichaels had been suspicious of Mr. Arbery, who had stopped by that house moments before they began to chase him.

She said that Mr. Bryan simply saw an unarmed Black man running down the street, being chased by men in a truck. His first thought, she said, was to help the pursuers. So he too gave chase.

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