This Day In History: February 23

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Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year-old Black man, is shot dead by a white father and son while out for a jog in a suburb of Brunswick, Georgia on February 23, 2020. 

On May 7, following the release of a video of the killing that spurred national attention from the media, civil rights groups, lawmakers, celebrities and, eventually, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, Gregory and Travis McMichael were arrested on charges of murder and aggravated assault. William Bryan, who filmed the shooting on his phone, was also arrested and charged with felony murder and criminal attempt to commit false imprisonment. All three men were later found guilty of murder and sentenced to prison.

Arbery, a former high school football player, reportedly jogged around the neighborhoods of Brunswick frequently, according to The New York Times. Gregory McMichael, a retired police officer and investigator for the local district attorney's office, told police he saw Arbery running that day, and thought he looked like a suspect in a series of local break-ins. The father and son hopped in their white pickup truck, armed with a .357 Magnum and a shotgun, and pursued Arbery. Bryan also gave chase, the newspaper reports, and filmed the video that shows a struggle between Arbery and Travis McMichael, who fired three shots. McMichael later claimed that Mr Arbery had grabbed at his gun.

The video, released on May 5, 2020 by a lawyer for Arbery's family, sparked outrage that no arrests had been made more than two months after the killing. Five days after the release of the video of Arbery's killing, footage from a surveillance camera emerged, showing a man believed to be Mr Arbery at a home construction site shortly before the shooting. The man is seen walking on to the site and looking around for a few minutes before jogging down the street.

Arbery's killing happened shortly before the deaths of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis and Breonna Taylor by police during a failed no-knock raid in Louisville, Kentucky. All these incidents sparked widespread protests against police violence and racial injustice in the United States and around the globe. 

On May 10, 2021, Georgia Governor Brian Kemp signed legislation that overhauled an existing Civil War-era law and limited most Georgians' authority to arrest people whom they believe have committed a crime. The citizen’s arrest law had allowed any Georgian who believed they had witnessed a crime to arrest the suspected offender if the crime “is committed in his presence or within his immediate knowledge.”

On November 24, 2021, after about a two-week trial, a Georgia jury found Travis McMichael, Gregory McMichael and William ‘Roddie’ Bryan guilty of murder, aggravated assault, false imprisonment and criminal intent to commit a felony. In a separate trial, a jury found all three men were found guilty of federal hate crime charges, as well. The father and son were sentenced to life in prison, while Bryan was sentenced to 35 years.