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The Jolt: There’s something different about Ahmaud Arbery’s murder. It’s the GOP reaction

In this image from video posted on Twitter Tuesday, May 5, 2020, Ahmaud Arbery stumbles and falls to the ground after being shot as Travis McMichael stands by holding a shotgun in a neighborhood outside Brunswick, Ga., on Feb. 23, 2020.
In this image from video posted on Twitter Tuesday, May 5, 2020, Ahmaud Arbery stumbles and falls to the ground after being shot as Travis McMichael stands by holding a shotgun in a neighborhood outside Brunswick, Ga., on Feb. 23, 2020.

There are moments, rare ones, when it seems like the human race might just have a chance after all.

Last night, Greg and Travis McMichael, a Brunswick father and son, were charged with murder and aggravated assault in the shooting death of an unarmed 25-year-old Ahmaud Arbery. Who would have turned 26 today.

Arbery was killed in February while jogging through the McMichaels’ neighborhood. Prosecutors said the father-and-son – who had close ties to local law enforcement -- had chased Arbery down in their pick-up because they suspected him of burglary. No TV sets or candlesticks were found in his shorts.

The same prosecutors theorized that Arbery might have shot himself, by pulling on the shotgun barrel pointed at him by Travis McMichael, 34, who had his finger on the trigger. How this might have happened three times was left to the imagination.

But on Tuesday night, video of the incident finally escaped. It had been shot by a second driver and McMichael friend, William Bryan. Millions of Americans were suddenly asked to decide who they believed – local peace officers or their own lying eyes. This time, the eyes won. A first round, and belatedly, anyway.

If you are African American, the murder and cover-up are painfully familiar. But there is indeed something different about the reaction to Arbery’s death, particularly among Republicans.

On Tuesday night, just after the recording emerged, Attorney General Chris Carr set the tone. "Based on the video footage and news reports that I have seen, I am deeply concerned with the events surrounding the shooting of Ahmaud Arbery," he said in a statement sent out via Twitter. "I expect justice to be carried out as swiftly as possible."

Gov. Brian Kemp weighed in that same evening. "Georgians deserve answers. State law enforcement stands ready to ensure justice is served," he said, offering to put the GBI into the field. The offer was quickly accepted.

On Thursday, Kemp signaled he's open to legislation that imposes additional penalties on hate crimes, though he stopped short of endorsing the measure, which has already passed the House – but lies stalled in the Senate.

State Rep. Chuck Efstration, R-Dacula, chairman of the House Judiciary Non-Civil Committee, is the author of House Bill 426. He has called on Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan and the state Senate to pass the measure “as soon as possible.”

The GOP reactions do not stop at expressions of dismay. Significantly, they include condemnations of local Republican officials. Some of them are more oblique than others. From U.S. Rep. Buddy Carter, R-Pooler, whose First District encompasses coastal Georgia:

"Our community is rightfully shaken and on edge following the tragic shooting of Ahmaud Arbery. The video footage and what has been reported about the situation is deeply troubling and I am extremely concerned by the alleged improprieties in the process that followed. In South Georgia we value truth and justice."

In Gwinnett County, Mark Gonsalves, a GOP candidate in the Seventh District congressional race, was more direct: “If corrupt government officials were involved in shielding the perpetrators from justice, they should be removed and charged,” he wrote.

This morning's AJC report by Christian Boone notes this:

Though he didn't fire his weapon, Greg McMichael provided cover for his son. He told Glynn County police he recognized Arbery from surveillance video of a break-in at a Satilla Shores home. He did not mention that he had investigated Arbery on a 2018 shoplifting charge. Arbery's probation — for a gun-related incident while he was still in high school — was revoked.

In Nashville, Russell Moore heads up the public affairs arm of the Southern Baptist Convention. He has been criticized for keeping President Donald Trump at a distance, but nonetheless is an influential conservative voice. On Thursday, Moore focused on those pointing to the dead man's past:

Whatever the specifics of this case turn out to be, we do know several things. The first is that the arguments, already bandied about on social media, that "Arbery wasn't a choirboy" are revolting. We have heard such before with Trayvon Martin and in almost every case since. For all I know, Arbery was a choirboy.

But even if he were the complete opposite (let's suppose just for the sake of argument), that is no grounds to be chased down and shot by private citizens. There is no, under any Christian vision of justice, situation in which the mob murder of a person can be morally right. Those who claim to have a high view of Romans 13 responsibilities of the state to "wield the sword" against evildoers ought to be the first to see that vigilante justice is the repudiation not just of constitutional due process but of the Bible itself.

***

Watch out drivers: Nearly 20,000 teens have been issued their driver's licenses with their parent's consent after the state waived a requirement for most to take a road test because of the pandemic.

"These teens held a permit for a year and a day and complied with all Georgia's mandatory driver education requirements," including 40 hours of supervised training, Susan Sports of the Department of Driver Services told The New York Times. 

Gov. Brian Kemp suspended the road-test requirement in an April 23 executive order, and at Thursday’s press conference he was asked if the move could make the streets more dangerous for drivers.

“This team has been focused basically on new norms that we are experiencing so we certainly appreciate the feedback we’ve gotten. I think it’s very limited in scope,” Kemp replied.

***

Two weeks ago, when Gov. Brian Kemp announced that he would allow Georgia's economy to reopen earlier than many thought prudent, he said that he was acting on a downward trend in pandemic statistics.

But Democratic statistician Chris Huttman has been closely following the back-filling of data on the state Department of Public Health website. And the updated stats now show that Georgia hit its coronavirus peak on April 22, the day before Kemp made his announcement.

***

U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler's campaign is pushing a video featuring the voice of Genevieve Wilson, the head of the Georgia Right to Life anti-abortion group, accusing GOP rival Doug Collins of not being a staunch enough opponent of abortion.

"He says one thing and he does another thing," said Wilson, who criticizes the Gainesville congressman for his vote on a massive government spending plan in 2015 that didn't cut off funding for Planned Parenthood.

His allies scoff at the notion that he’s not sufficiently opposed to abortion.

“I have zero tolerance for people who misrepresent the facts on the issue of abortion,” said U.S. Rep. Austin Scott, R-Tifton. “Any suggestion that Doug Collins ever supported Planned Parenthood is a flat-out lie.”

***

The Marietta Daily Journal has a Q&A with U.S. Sen. David Perdue, R-Ga., this morning. Most of it is dedicated to how Washington is handling the coronavirus. But the final question was a doozy, and the answer was an interesting claim of neutrality:

Q: Who would you like to see as the junior Republican senator from Georgia?

A: Well, we have one right now. Kelly Loeffler has been appointed and was sworn in. ... There's an active race in November. It's a jungle general election. There are a number of Republican candidates, a number of Democratic candidates. I'll just say this. Any of the two leading Republican candidates right now would be a better U.S. senator than any of the Democrats that I've seen in the list so far.

***

Even during a pandemic and economic downturn, Stacey Abrams' voting rights group is raking in the cash. The Fair Fight Political Action Committee reported Thursday that it raised about $2.1 million from thousands of donors over the past three months, our AJC colleague James Salzer reports:

Of the $1.6 million raised from named donors - those who have given $100 or more - almost $500,000 came during April, the month much of the country's economy was shut down due to the pandemic.

It was also a month of heavy publicity for Abrams, who has jockeyed to be presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden's running mate in the November general election. The three-month haul left the PAC for Fair Fight, which advocates for fair elections, with $11.7 million in the bank, according to disclosures filed Thursday.

Overall, the group has raised about $22 million since being formed in the wake of Abrams' narrow loss to Gov. Brian Kemp in the 2018 elections.

***

In endorsement news: Senate candidate and U.S. Rep. Doug Collins has nabbed the support of another 10 sheriffs, bringing his total to 28.

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