After video was released earlier this week of the shooting death of Georgia resident Ahmaud Arbery, demands for justice over the killing of yet another unarmed Black man have been echoing across the country.
At the same time, another mother is grieving the loss of her son, and asking why a young Black man can’t simply go for a jog near his home without being preyed upon and eventually killed.
As seen in the horrifying video, which has gone viral on social media, father and son Greg and Travis McMichael chased and harassed 25-year-old Arbery as he jogged in broad daylight, and then the younger McMichael opened fire at near point-blank range, ending Arbery’s life.
The incident took place on February 23, yet neither of the men have been arrested nor brought up on any charges. But after weeks of public outcry and, ultimately, the release of the shocking video, an independent prosecutor was assigned to the case on Tuesday, May 5. That prosecutor, Tom Durden, has recommended that the case go to a grand jury. The McMichael’s remain free.
There is broad sentiment that the young man was profiled because of his race. Voices from local and national activists, including NBA star LeBron James and even Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden have called for justice.
More than anyone else, it is Arbery’s family who wants answers as to why he will never come home.
Arbery’s mother, Wanda Cooper-Jones, spoke to BET.com on Thursday (May 7) about the type of young man Ahmaud had the potential to be, the last words she said to him, and her hopes for bringing his killers to justice.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
BET.com: News reports about this shooting have circulated for a while now, but what has your family been told about what happened to Ahmaud?
Wanda Cooper-Jones: The night of this initially happening was February 23. I was called by local authorities and an investigator for the Glynn County Police department had told me Ahmaud was involved in a burglary and that there was a confrontation between Ahmaud and the homeowners and that in the confrontation, a struggle began and Ahmaud was killed. He did not share that they came after him in a pickup truck at all. That’s all he really told me. Naturally I was in shock. I didn’t ask any more questions at that time.
BET.com: Had Ahmaud been in contact with you or any other family member before the shooting?
Cooper-Jones: No, because I was actually at my mom’s house. It happened so early in the day that I hadn’t talked to Ahmaud yet. We normally touch base around the end of the day. The last time I spoke with Ahmaud was when I was leaving out. I was scheduled for some training. I was leaving out, and I said, ‘I love you’ and he said, ‘I love you, too.’ That was the last exchange we had.
BET.com: Gov. Brian Kemp commented yesterday, saying ‘Georgians deserve answers.’ Do you think he took too long to address this matter and have you heard from him directly?
Cooper-Jones: I haven’t heard from him. The reason for this, I think, is because it happened in February and changed hands [between] district attorneys because of conflicts of interest. Actually, I had reached out to the Glynn County D.A. Jackie Johnson, but she never returned any of my calls. Her office told me there was a conflict of interest. Then it went to D.A. George Barnhill in Wave County, who recused himself, so we lost about 30 to 45 days there.
When I reached out to Barnhill, he told me he had just received the case and that he was waiting on toxicology reports. I became concerned, though, over [this notion of] conflicts of interest. He told me very nonchalantly that Ahmaud had been shot with a shotgun and that’s all he could tell me.
I found out through my own research that there [were] conflict of interests there. Where it sits now is in Liberty County. There is no conflict there to the best of my knowledge.
BET.com: What would you like to see happen with this case?
Cooper-Jones: What I really want to see is that we need to get an indictment as soon as we can to get [Gregory and Travis McMichael] off the street. They did this in February, here it is early May and they’re still walking the streets like they haven’t done anything wrong and they’ve taken a life.
BET.com: Did you ever have concerns about Ahmaud jogging in the past? Had there been other racially motivated incidents?
Cooper-Jones: No, and I’m basically a worrier. It never concerned me. When he would go on a jog, he shouldn’t have had any problems. Me as a mother, I shouldn’t have had anything to worry about.
BET.com: What do you want people to know about your son? What kind of man was he and what kind of man did you want him to be? What were his dreams and aspirations?
Cooper-Jones: Ahmaud had the most humble spirit that anyone could have. I’m not just saying that because he was my baby boy. He played football at Brunswick High School; he was a linebacker. He was the youngest of three siblings. He was a ‘yes ma’am,’ and ‘no ma’am’ type of guy. He was an ‘I love you’ type of guy. He always left you with ‘I love you.’ He had dreams. He was 25 with dreams of being married with kids. It was all taken away from him.
BET.com: The Southern Poverty Law Center and other groups are calling this a hate crime since Ahmaud is Black and the McMichaels are white. Do you agree?
Cooper-Jones: I don’t want to say a hate crime, but I have to lean in that direction. Ahmaud wasn’t angering anybody. The way they killed him showed they were angry, so it really was a hate crime because of how it happened. He wasn’t bothering anybody, but they were angry and they wanted to hurt somebody.
BET.com: The video has circulated around the internet and social media. Would you rather it had been kept private?
Cooper-Jones: Of course, because who wants to get up and log onto their computer and see this? And that’s not even people who are emotionally attached. Look, my mom is 83-years-old and this video is on the news. As a mother, I can’t be shielded from this.
When the video came out, I was advised by [Attorney Lee] Merritt, who told me not to watch it alone. I haven’t seen it and have no intention of watching it. When the news comes on and it’s shown, I leave the room.
BET.com: One of the assailants, Greg McMichael, was once an investigator with the Brunswick County Judicial Circuit D.A.’s office. Are you afraid that may get in the way of prosecuting him for your son’s death?
Cooper-Jones: Of course, yes, that has a lot to do with it because he was one of them. You’re not going to feel comfortable. They don’t want to discipline their own brother. He was a part of their family in law enforcement. They didn’t want to discipline him for doing something wrong. They didn’t want to, and they didn’t.
The only thing I have to say is Ahmaud was a person. He was gunned down like he was an animal. No one deserves that. They shot him down like he was a dog or deer or something. That’s not how he was supposed to leave here.
Madison J. Gray is senior editor at BET.com.
Wendy L. Wilson, news director at BET.com, contributed reporting to this story.