I, like many of you, watched the video of the murder of Ahmaud Arbery, in horror. It is hard to express the pain and anger I felt watching it. His murder shows us exactly why local elections matter. As a prosecutor, our first job is to do justice. I can understand why many feel that justice has yet to be done in this case. We don’t understand why Ahmaud is no longer with us. We don’t understand how a case is conflicted out to an office that also had a conflict. We don't understand why an arrest was not made that day in February. And we certainly don’t understand why an arrest wasn’t immediately made once we saw the video evidence that was allegedly leaked.
While we don’t know all the facts that the other prosecutors and law enforcement have in this case, I can’t imagine there would be anything that would negate an arrest or justify a finding of self-defense. District attorneys do have the power to not file charges when there is a genuine defense, including self-defense. However, when it is not clear, and probable cause exists, that is an issue for a judge and eventually jury to ultimately decide.
Cases like the murder of Mr. Arbery are very troubling and can even make it harder for law enforcement officers and prosecutors that actually do their job faithfully and according to their oaths.
If a prosecutor recuses (removes herself from a case) due to a conflict of interest, they should not continue to involve themselves in the case. Period. Once a conflict of interest is noted, it is best for a third party to come in and do investigations and make charging decisions.
District Attorneys must be accountable to the people in their communities. When they do things that cause distrust it can put a shadow on every other case in the office. There are times when we as prosecutors have to make decisions that are not popular in the community but if they are based on facts and the law we should be able stand behind them. In my 17 years as a prosecutor, there have been times that I have had to tell a victim that there wasn’t enough evidence for a case to proceed, or that an officer’s mistake led to evidence being suppressed, or even that an error I made caused a delay in a trial. I believe having a good relationship with your local law enforcement agencies allows you to be able to tell them when they have been incorrect and vice-versa. The key is being open about the process.
As there are specific rules prosecutors that must follow that prohibit us from making pre-trial statements about cases, we are often limited about what we can say when a case is pending. That is why it is so important that we are open and transparent, so that the public can trust what we do. The situation in Brunswick surrounding the investigation of the death of Mr. Arbery wreaks of cronyism and improper influence.
So what do we do? How do we channel the rage, anger, and pain upon seeing such a horrific act of violence seemingly go without punishment? You use your voice, your vote. You may think it is a small thing and in some instances, it is. But many small voices together make a powerful electorate.
I am a Disney fan, and I am reminded of the movie “A Bug’s Life” ( which isn't my favorite) but does have a good lesson. The ants were not aware of their power. The grasshoppers were fully aware of the power of the ants and kept the ants in line to prevent them from utilizing that power. There is a scene in the movie where Hopper (grasshopper leader) explains this by throwing a single seed, showing that one ant fighting back won’t make a difference. Hopper then opens the vat and tons of seeds fall out, crushing nearby grasshoppers, showing that if all the ants got together, they could easily crush the grasshoppers.
It is so very important that we vote in every election. Local elections, including District Attorney are very important. Don’t believe me about the importance of local elections?
The Legislators that draft laws concerning what is self-defense and what constitutes a citizen’s arrest? ELECTED.
The Sheriff, the person who hires the people that make arrests and do investigations? ELECTED.
The City Council, the people that choose the Chief of Police and help determine use of force policies? ELECTED.
District Attorneys who decide what, if and when to charge a crime? ELECTED.
Judges, the people that interpret the law on these types of cases? ELECTED.
I submit to you, that while you may feel like the ant, powerless to do anything in this situation, you have more power than you know. That power is your VOTE.
Register to vote. Go to the polls or vote by mail. Take A Friend. Take Another Friend. And Another. And let your votes rain down like seeds.