November 20, 2021

Arbery’s Killers Are Using the Logic of Slave Patrols to Defend Themselves

The testimony has concluded in the Georgia murder trial of the three white men who targeted Ahmaud Arbery because he was Black and then killed him. Evidence presented at trial transported us back to the days of the infamous slave patrols. Gregory McMichael, his son Travis, and William “Roddie” Bryan Jr. are on trial for killing Arbery on February 23, 2020, during a purported “citizen’s arrest.”

Racism has infected every aspect of this case — from the defendants’ racial profiling of Arbery, to the 10-week delay in filing charges, to the seating of a nearly all-white jury, to the defendants’ racist statements, to the defense’s attempt to ban Black pastors from attending the trial.

Beginning in 1704, slave patrols empowered every white person to control the movements and activities of every Black person. Citizen’s arrest laws date back to 13th century Europe and were later brought to the British North American colonies. In 1863, Georgia adopted a citizen’s arrest statute to replace the slave patrols with another avenue to vigilante “justice.” The law deputized any white Georgian to seize and detain any Black person on suspicion of being an escaped slave.

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books by marjorie cohn
Drones and Targeted Killing The United States and Torture Rules of Disengagement Cowboy Republic: 6 Ways the Bush Gang Defied the Law Cameras in the Courtroom

about marjorie cohn

Marjorie Cohn is professor emerita at Thomas Jefferson School of Law where she taught for 25 years. The former president of the National Lawyers Guild and criminal defense attorney is a legal scholar and political analyst who writes books and articles, and lectures throughout the world about human rights, US foreign policy, and the contradiction between the two. She has testified before Congress and debated the legality of the war in Afghanistan at the prestigious Oxford Union. Her columns appear on Truthout, HuffPost, Salon, Jurist, Truthdig, Portside, CommonDreams and Consortium News, and she has provided commentary for CBS News, BBC, MSNBC, CNN, Fox News, NPR and Pacifica Radio. Learn more about Marjorie >>

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