Ahmaud Arbery’s life and death profiled in ’48 Hours’ documentary: ‘Modern-day lynching’

Arbery's family and friends discuss his life and the months it took for arrests to be made in his death in a '48 Hours' documentary

Ahmaud Arbery’s shooting death earlier this year created national headlines, but his family grappled with their loss long before the spotlight centered him. 48 HOURS: Justice for Ahmaud is an upcoming in-depth CBS special that features his loved ones who say he didn’t deserve to die in a “modern-day lynching.”

Arbery was shot on Feb. 23 three times while jogging in a predominantly white neighborhood outside of Brunswick, Georgia after Gregory and Travis McMichael, the armed father and son duo, pursued him in their truck under the belief the unarmed Black man was a thief. Their neighbor William “Roddie” Bryan captured the incident on his phone and was allegedly part of the pursuit.

Ahmaud Arbery thegrio.com

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It took months for Bryan’s footage to leak and go viral which allowed Arbery’s case to gain traction in the mainstream media and spur protests.  A grand jury indicted the McMichael’s, and Bryan in May on malice and felony murder charges in Arbery’s death with each defendant facing nine counts.

“They took my baby boy from me,” Wanda Cooper Jones, Arbery’s mother, tells CBS News.

“I want justice for Ahmaud … so Ahmaud can rest in peace,” Cooper Jones adds.

Cooper Jones never let up on getting justice for her son even as the days wore on and turned into months. Two prosecutors recused themselves due to ties to the McMichael family and both had recommended no charges be brought forth.

“I think they woke up a sleeping giant in Wanda Cooper with the murder of her son,” Lee Merritt, a civil rights attorney representing Arbery’s family, says to CBS News.

Wanda Jones-Cooper, Ahmaud Arbery theGrio.com
\Wanda Jones-Cooper with her son, Ahmaud Arbery (Personal Family Picture)

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Prosecutor Jesse Evans tells CBS News correspondent Omar Villafranca that the accused had no authority to even be in pursuit of Arbery, 25.

“Any single shot was too much,” Jesse Evans declares. “Merely pointing that shotgun at somebody was too much. Getting in pickup trucks and chasing Ahmaud Arbery down was too much. This whole case is too much.”

The lawyers for the charged and incarcerated men use the programming to counter the narrative that Arbery’s death was racially motivated. Bryan told the court that Travis stood over a dying Arbery and called him the N-word. It is a claim denied by counsel for the Travis.

Nonetheless, prosecutors recently filed a motion to introduce racist social media posts and texts attributed to all three men as “proof of motive,” the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports.

Left to right: Greg McMichael, Travis McMichael and William “Roddie” Bryan Jr.(Photo: Glynn County Sheriff’s Office via AP)

“This is a case about a good man who had to defend himself on Feb. 23 when he was in a terrible situation,” says Bob Rubin, an attorney for Travis, to CBS News.

“It’s not just two white men out there, hunting down, trapping and executing a Black man, as the prosecution characterized it,” Frank Hogue, an attorney for Gregory, tells the outlet. “That is not what happened.”

Long before Arbery became another tragic example cited in the Black Lives Matter movement, CBS News was on the ground and gathering information that was altered due to coronavirus pandemic and forced to continue production virtually. The completed documentary, which also features comments from Arbery’s ex-girlfriend Shenice Johnson, has been more than six months in the making.

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Rodney Hawkins, one of the producers involved in the project, exclusively tells theGrio why fleshing out Arbery’s life story is necessary.

“What’s great about this 48 Hours episode, is not only will you be able to see and remember what happened, but now you’ll see the backstory to where before even that video came out, what was happening and what the community was doing,” he says.

Hawkins explains why the defense for the men accused in Arbery’s death are involved.

“It was very crucial for us to be able to have those interviews and tell their side of the story, because, you know, as a young Black male myself, I want to understand why,” he shares. “Obviously, he was shot and killed, but what were they doing to where this made sense to them, because in order for us to get to the root of the problem, we have to actually address it head-on. And if we’re not communicating, we’re not going to change or effectively understand and grow from these experiences.”

As a Black man and journalist whose uncle was shot and killed by law enforcement, Hawkins approaches these stories from a unique perspective including an uncle who was shot and killed.

“I believe that we all have biases. And I think more specifically, as a Black man, I think it’s important that we don’t shy away from those biases. But we realize those biases are our perspective,” he shares. “So I understand some of what Ahmaud had to endure as a Black man living in this country. And I realize how valid it is for us to tell those stories, but also, with my perspective, understanding how we even got to that point.”

48 HOURS: Justice for Ahmaud will air on Saturday, Oct. 10 (10:00 p.m., ET/PT) on CBS.

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