Marcus Arbery Sr says his son was just like him, fit and athletic.
Nearly everyone who talks about his youngest son, Ahmaud Arbery, remembers him running. Neighbors saw him jogging nearly every day. Ahmaud’s route would take him along the flat, curved road outside the home he shared with his mother, then into the unincorporated community of Satilla Shores on the Georgia coast just outside of Brunswick. Ahmaud would wave to the regulars on his route.
“He just loved to work out and he just loved people,” his father told the Guardian.
When the 25-year-old left for a run on a sunny February afternoon, he passed, for the last time, neighbors whose Ring alerts would go off as he raced by their homes. He would eventually meet Gregory McMichael, 64, and his son, Travis, 34. Shortly afterwards, Ahmaud was shot at least twice.
He was dead before officers arrived.
For more than two months, Marcus Sr – along with his son’s siblings and mother – demanded answers. But as the case went through three district attorneys after the first two had to recuse themselves due to ties with Gregory McMichael, no one was charged in his son’s death.
Ahmaud’s family was devastated.
“We can’t have two different justice systems in America: one for black America and one for white America,” Ben Crump, the lawyer representing Marcus Sr, told the Guardian.
That day in February, the McMichaels told police that Ahmaud matched the description of someone caught on a security camera committing a burglary in the neighborhood. This week, a leaked video appeared to contradict the elder McMichael’s statement to police insisting Ahmaud violently attacked his son.
Gregory McMichael’s story also contradicts Marcus Sr’s memories of his son. “He was just a lovable young man and he would give you the shirt off of his back,” he said of the youngest of his three children, who would have turned 26 on Friday.
“We’re talking about doing a celebration for him during the weekend,” Marcus Sr says. Thousands of people in Glynn county and across America also celebrated Ahmaud on Friday by doing something he loved: running. Near his mother’s house, people took the same route Ahmaud would run, walking or jogging 2.23 miles, representing the last day of Arbery’s young life.
“We’re going to keep running for you, bro, until justice is served,” one of his friends posted on Facebook while jogging.
Within two days of the release of the video of his death, after 10 weeks of local law enforcement failing to investigate, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation made arrests and promised to continue the investigation. The McMichaels were charged with murder and aggravated assault on Thursday, the day before Ahmaud would have turned 26.
His father calls the shooting an act of racism by the McMichaels, who are white. The Arbery family is black. “I’ve dealt with racism my whole life here,” Marcus Sr says of the community. “Everybody’s supposed to be equal.”
Though he doesn’t think that’s the way justice works in Glynn county, he hopes the shooting of his youngest child may be the catastrophic event that changes how this corner of Georgia operates.
Even if that change does come, he says, it will be in exchange for his son’s life.
“I got to live without my son and they lynched him. It’s just hard,” he said. “He didn’t deserve that.”