Jury selection for Arbery killers’ federal trial enlightens public on court proceedings

Update: Was able to call the courthouse and inquire about access to documents like the juror questionnaire sent out, access to video footage being made available, as well as what their courtroom’s policy is for an overflow room for media and the public. Federal and State trials are supposed to be open to the public as a matter of transparency however not all federal courts are required to offer the same level of video coverage as the state trials do (why that is is complicated but not unlikely to change in our age of digital media). I was only able to leave my number and am waiting to be contacted back which may take some time. If you have the time/resources/ energy to be present physically or to call and inquire about media transparency the courts phone number and location is:
Located in: Frank M. Scarlett Federal Building
Address: 801 Gloucester St # 222, Brunswick, GA 31520
Phone: (912) 280-1330

Update: heard back from the court house: If you’re looking up info on USA V Travis/Greg McMichael & Roddie Bryan (three separate cases) the court case the file number is 2:21CR00022. if you’re on the courthouse website and/ or go to PACER you can access the audio streams and recordings (trying to find a link to post). There isn’t live video footage only audio. Like all criminal trials it is open to the public. Seatings in the courthouse are first come first serve. Please show deference to the family, close friends, colleagues of Ahmaud’s Family.

Jury selection 

In January; 1000 questionnaires were sent out throughout several counties of Georgia in order to select as many potential jurors as possible. 52 were called in to begin the selection process. On day one of jury selection, 30 people were decided as unfit for this trial. At the end of the selection process there will be 12 jurors seated and a few (3 or 4) alternates. 

There are a few snafus with the selection process that could potentially drag it out for a few weeks to a month. (a) As this case is high profile a lot of Georgians already have strong opinions about this case. Which is why so many people were dismissed after the first day. 

(b) McMichaels already pleaded guilty to committing a hate crime in the attempt to receive a plea deal. That deal was denied, meaning the case continued into court rather than being settled outside of court. Between their conviction of being guilty of murder on all accounts in the state trial and their guilty plea for the federal trial, it is so that many of the potential juror already view them as guilty of a hate crime. As everyone deserves a fair trial the predicament is that it will be difficult to find jurors who can serve fairly. 

(b) On Feb 10, only a few days into the selection, news reports indicated that many of the remaining jurors who don’t already believe they’re guilty have strong opinions in other directions. Some are confused as to why this case is going to trial because they thought the men were already convicted. Some of those jurors have strong opinions about hate crimes in general. Some think this trial is trying to “make it about race”. It was not mentioned whether these jurors were dismissed or are still in the selection process. It’s left unseen whether more questionnaires will need to be sent out to find more potential jurors. 

The media has not done a comprehensive job explaining the difference between the state trial that convicted them guilty and this federal trial. There has also been less coverage on why a hate crime trial is important, the potential benefits or side effects. North America media is notoriously dismissive of talking about race in any real way unless it’s sensational or sexy so it could be that because this trial is early on in the process and because trials are necessarily bureaucratic that it’s not exciting enough that it’s not being covered in depth.

In my opinion this contributes to the problem of people not understanding their own legal system. Since it’s not a reality tv show with nonstop drama the general public tend to think it’s unnecessary or too dry. Even though being called as a juror is a civic duty, most of us don’t learn about the legal system in school unless we actively look for opportunities. The judicial branch’s slow moving process is confusing, unintuitive, and the courts are not necessarily used to having to include or communicate with wider audiences. If news would cover it more in depth it would give people an opportunity to understand the very complex nature of these cases and court procedures. 

In the state trial, Judge Timothy Walmsley did an incredible job explaining court proceedings to the jurors and so to the nation as the court was filmed and streamed live.  There are tight restrictions on cameras in courtrooms, however, criminal cases are supposed to be open to the public. So far this federal case has not been streaming footage of the jury selection so I’m going to call them and try to understand why there is no live stream of camera footage. I’m going to recommend that if they don’t want to draw a large crown in Brunswick then they ought to live stream the courtroom proceedings. If they thought that the state trial was tense due to the crowds gathering outside, they might be in for a real treat. 

Opinion piece —why is this trial so important 

The state trial and this federal trial are important for me for different reasons. The state trial is important to me because Ahmaud was an athlete, and more specifically, a runner. Most runners have experienced some form or level of harassment while running. A trial like this is imperative to bring awareness to those horrifying experiences and to deter this behavior by proving that victims are able to get a conviction. It is highly unfortunate that this successful conviction is the result of Ahmaud losing his life. Those men should not have even been able to get out of their car at a jogger without fear of a conviction. Instead their fear response was obstructed by their racist intent and they essentially took the freedom of their own lives, when they took his.

Even though Travis and Greg McMichael and Roddie Bryan were find guilty, given life sentences, and plead guilty to a hate crime hoping for a plea deal I still believe they deserve a fair trial in the federal court. This federal trial is important to me for slightly more complex, obscure, reasons. In the early 2000s, I attended a liberal arts college in the hyper-wealthy Chicago suburb Elmhurst. Because of the diversity of Chicago, while attending Elmhurst College, a friend group grew out of an ecumenical club called Spiritual Life Council (SLC). The group consisted of mostly practicioners of the Abrahamic traditions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam, along with a few Buddhists and Indigenous students. Unwilling to ally with SLC was a hyper-conservative student group: Campus Crusade for Christ (Cru). Cru touted Christian dogma of peace and compassion for fellow man-kind. It quickly became clear on campus that their idea of “fellow mankind” only included other Christians, especially male Christians. They repeatedly were involved with hate crimes against Muslim students on campus, on one occasion creating a anti-Islamic propaganda poster with a target surrounding Islamic imagery insinuating Muslims should be the target of attack. They were given a soft slap on the wrist and had to remove the posters. While not all of the student body was involved in either of these two groups it was clear that many students shared Cru’s prejudices against anyone not white and not Christian. There were several instances of anti-Jewish and anti-Muslim hate on campus over the four years I attended the school. Bullying included actions like those posters swazticas graffitied on walls and dorm doors and other forms of intense bullying, as well as more subtle forms of xenophobia like deliberately not signing up for electives taught by professors with ‘foreign sounding names’ with the excuse of ‘I can’t understand their accent’ even when they dont have one. When students found themselves in those professors’ courses they were often outwardly rude and overly critical of their teaching style on websites like RateMyProfessor.com (a website heavily used at the time to get a general sense of whether a student would vibe well or not with a professor).

The school administration continually gave weak responses to these instances sloughing them off as ignorant white college kids coming to terms with the diversity of the world. They were continually dismissed with a slap on the hand and a stern warning. And so, the instances kept happening. The hate was so strong that one of the Muslim students had experienced a mental breakdown, had responded to this hate destructively, and was subsequently expelled from school— her bullies never reprimanded and the root of her action never discussed. The school administrators’ response was suspect as victim-blaming. The school spent more time and resources on protecting their PR then addressing the initial issues of racism and hate on campus.

It is easy to explain these events on campus as post 9/11 angst. Hate crimes, especially towards Muslims, had increased drastically around the United States. Very little was done about beyond reasoning that ‘it’s to be expected given that Islamic terrorists attacked the nation’. 

Is it to be expected? Should it be expected? These are two very different questions. 

It is expected. 

During the 60s and 70s Civil Rights Movement, there was an increase of attacks on Black Americans across the nation. Jim Crow laws latched their slimy claws into the actions of white folk who bullied and flat out terrorized their neighbors. 

In the 2000s, the reawakening of this hate towards BIPOC community members, now directed primarily at Muslims, shows us that when society is moved by hateful propaganda they are willing to act on their baser impulses. 

In 2020, as the Corona Virus is found and identified by Chinese medical doctor, Dr. ——-, North America saw a drastic increase of hate crimes directed towards Asian People’s both online and in person. Several instances led to the death of elderly Asian Americans beaten on the street by rage-filled white men. 

This time, hateful, xenophobic propaganda was spread by president Trump and his administration at almost all hours of the day.

The propaganda leading to these pogroms honed in on the general discontent North Americans have over almost everything. The messaging and imagery latched onto the nation’s feeling of losing war/power, losing control, and suggested that by acting hatefully towards community members white people can somehow regain their power and control.

Even with a new administration in the White House, the federal government has not taken a strong stance towards responding to the increase of hate crimes. They treat it with about as much diligence as addressing gun control, which is to say they’ve tried to sweep it under the rug (probably hoping the next admin will have to deal with it). 

To make the social issue even more complex,
After George Floyd and dozens of Black Americans (both men and women) were murdered by the police over a short span of time in a variety of districts, politicians typical response of “strengthening the police force” is only met with more and more peaceful protests. Rather then addressing protests or addressing perpetrators of violence, both the federal government and the media have sloughed off the violence as being a part of the liberal agenda, essentially making it an impotent cause for everyone except the racist and xenophobic bullies who continue on as if their behavior is normal.

This federal trial against the McMichaels and Bryan both centers and goes beyond the death of Ahmaud Arbery. It centers and goes beyond justice for his family and friends. This trial also establishes precedent on Hate Crimes so that communities at large can find peace and justice by deterring other white people who are acting out their anger and malcontent on innocent civilians.

The hope is, and there is hope, that other individuals responsible for the bullying and the deaths of American people (at home or abroad), every person within the borders of the United States, and people impacted by US citizens abroad have the ability to seek justice against perpetrators of both psychological and physical violence fueled by hate.

True justice, in this regard, means not only seeking reparations between individuals like Ahmaud Arbery and Travis McMichael but to seek justice at the very root causes of the McMichaels’ actions. True Justice requires us to sit fully with the state of society and as grown adults understand why society is so filled with hate, who is manipulating that hate with propaganda, and what actions are being committed because of those manipulations. Until we sit fully as a community in acts of truth and reconciliation, this pattern of history is doomed to be repeated. And I, for one, am not willing to wait until anyone else is at the other end of the stick before handing over that carrot and saying “whoa, whoa, let’s slow down and talk about this.” I say we put the stick down entirely and examine the primal movers of our personal and social anger. 

While I am unpacking that for myself, a quest that will take my entire life, here I’m going to focus on this one federal trial so I can understand what peaceful deterrence to hate crimes can look like through the judicial branch. 

Thanks for reading with your eyes, ears, and hands, and as always
Raise hell peacefully,
Anne Arkhane
(in cooperation with TheBoycottTimes)

Media/coverage & Notes

U.S. District Judge Lisa Godbey Wood will preside over the trial, jury selection is set to begin February 7. Court documents show the defendants will have public defenders, a difference from the state trial when all three men hired private attorneys.” https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.news4jax.com/news/local/2021/12/31/the-ahmaud-arbery-case-is-not-over-convicted-murderers-to-face-federal-hate-crime-charges-in-2022/%3foutputType=amp 

Plea deal Jan 30th?/31st

Feb 1st 

https://www.npr.org/2022/01/31/1076882516/ahmaud-arbery-plea-deal

Black News Channel 

Plea deal rejected https://bnc.tv/ahmaud-arbery-mother-rejected-plea-deal-sons-murderers/?amp=1

“There was no hate crime statute in the state of Georgia. There are were no protections for this community. But that has changed in the name of Ahmaud Arbery because people came together. …together we are truly powerful, and I said if we can do that in Georgia if we can change-not only get justice for a family— but we can change a historic hate crime statute if we can change a civil war era citizens arrest statute Imagine how much more we can do when we come together.” Attorney Lee Merritt min 1:30 

Barbera Armouir? speaks min 7:30

Transformative justice coalition 

“Thank you so much. What a powerful morning because all over the nation people are watching 

And they’re demanding justice…it doesn’t end here we want complete justice. 

Feb. 4 

Richard Fausset NYT.  https://www.nytimes.com/2022/02/04/us/hate-crimes-trial-ahmaud-arbery.html 

“Court documents and hearings over the past two years have hinted at some of the details that the federal jury may hear. An F.B.I. agent this week said that Travis McMichael’s cellphone contained racist messages referring to Black people as “monkeys” and other slurs.

Feb 7th 2022, Day one of Jury Selection 

Today, jury selection begins for the federal trial of Ahmaud Arbery’s murderers. Convicted of murder in the state trial late last year, this federal trial will seek to establish their criminal behavior as a hate crime with the hopes of achieving justice for the family as well as making it easier for families who experience hate crimes to seek justice in the future. I hope to be there in person soon, however, I am currently positive with covid so today I am in solidarity with the family and friends of Ahmaud at a safe distance. I hope the spiritual support offered to them from across the nation is felt.

On late Jan?- Early Feb? McMichaels and Bryan tried to plead guilty of a hate crime to get a plea deal which would allow them to serve their first 30 years of prison in a federal prison rather then a state prison. After testimony from the family actions against this deal their plea was denied. This  means the trial will continue go to the federal court. Whether their guilty plea will effect jury selection or the trial remains to be seen. Before the jury selection today, a questionnaire was sent out to about 1000 potential jurors across Georgia. Early reports are suggesting that the selection process may take up to a month because this is such a high profile trial. As we saw, jury selection for the state trial establishing McMichaels and Bryan as guilty of murder took over two weeks. Unfortunately, since this is a federal trial there is no live stream of this process (which is dumb and we’ll into changing that) and we will be relying on the reporters for news about this case until I can get down to Brunswick in person. 

Feb 7th  Continued

Bilal G. Morris NewsOne, https://newsone.com/4287030/ahmaud-arbery-state-vs-federal-trial/ 

“The federal trial focuses on motive, whereas the state trial did not. Was the killing of Arbery racially motivated and did the defendants violate Arbery’s civil rights?

In the federal case, prosecutors will try to prove the three men violated Arbery’s rights when they willfully interfered with his right to jog on a public road. Arbery was Black and all three defendants are white. Prosecutors will have to prove they violated his rights because of his race.

According to the federal government, hate crime laws include crimes committed based on the victim’s perceived or actual race, color, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, or disability. The term “hate” does not mean rage, anger, or general dislike, instead refers to a bias against people or groups with specific characteristics that are defined by the law.

The U.S. Department of Justice has been prosecuting federal hate crimes since the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1968. But it wasn’t until June 2020, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp signed into law the state’s first hate crime bill, which the public demanded after the Murder of Ahmaud Arbery.

According to some experts, a conviction in the federal trial will be more difficult than a state case. “Here, not only do they have to prove that they killed, they have to prove that they did it because of racial prejudice and hatred,” said Page Pate, a trial attorney in Georgia. “You have to get inside someone’s mind, someone’s heart.”’

Feb 9th

By Hannah Knowles and David Nakamura https://www.washingtonpost.com/national-security/2022/02/09/arbery-jury-selection-hate-crimes/ 

“Lawyers expected it would be challenging to find impartial jurors for the trial,which will center on whether Travis McMichael, Greg McMichael and their neighbor William “Roddie” Bryan were motivated by racism when they chased and killed Arbery, an unarmed 25-year-old Black man. The court cast a wide net, summoning more than 1,000 people from an area of southern Georgia spanning 43 counties.

Just over 50 people have been told to report back to the federal court in Brunswick, Ga., next week for more questioning before lawyers use their “peremptory strikes,” which allow both sides to remove people from the jury pool without giving a reason. There will be more preliminary screening Thursday and possibly Friday. Once 12 jurors and four alternates are picked, the trial is expected to take seven to 12 days, U.S. District Judge Lisa Wood has said.” 

Feb 10

https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.news4jax.com/news/georgia/2022/02/10/jury-selection-could-wrap-up-soon-in-arbery-death-federal-trial/%3foutputType=amp

https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.ajc.com/news/atlanta-news/most-potential-jurors-know-details-of-ahmaud-arberys-killing/SXSRLGHYPVA7JOTKIV3F7FLGJE/%3foutputType=amp

https://www.washingtonpost.com/national-security/2022/02/09/arbery-jury-selection-hate-crimes/

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