Racial factors front and center as fourth prosecutor takes over Arbery case

Yesterday, when we went over the history of the handling of the Ahmaud Arbery shooting, we focused on the first two prosecutors who looked into the case. At that time, I neglected to mention that the Attorney General had handed off the case to another local prosecutor named Tom Durden last month, making him the third person to be assigned to the task. But now things have changed yet again. Attorney General Christopher Carr has now moved the case out of the area entirely, appointing Cobb County District Attorney Joyette M. Holmes from the metropolitan Atlanta area to take the reins. There are probably multiple reasons for this, as we’ll discuss in a moment having as much to do with politics as with justice. (Associated Press)

Georgia’s attorney general appointed a black district attorney from the Atlanta area Monday to take over the case of a white father and son charged with killing a black man, making her the third outside prosecutor in a slaying that’s prompted a national outcry over suspicions that race played a role in delaying arrests…

Cobb County District Attorney Joyette M. Holmes takes over the case from prosecutor Tom Durden, who the state’s attorney general said asked to be replaced by a prosecutor with a large staff as “this case has grown in size and magnitude.” Holmes is based in metro Atlanta, more than 300 miles (480 kilometers) from the coastal Georgia community in Glynn County where the shooting happened.

“District Attorney Holmes is a respected attorney with experience, both as a lawyer and a judge,” state Attorney General Chris Carr, a Republican, said in a statement. “And the Cobb County District Attorney’s office has the resources, personnel and experience to lead this prosecution and ensure justice is done.”

Carr was already under growing pressure to get someone else on the job. The National Association of District Attorneys issued a letter yesterday condemning the previous prosecutor. As the national media spotlight continues to focus on how this killing is being handled, Carr obviously wants to ensure that he avoids any blame or accusations of racial bias falling on him or the governor.

Carr seems to be angling to avoid even the suggestion that this case is being “whitewashed” (pardon the phrase) by the state. Not only is Holmes from a larger office with more staff and resources, but she’s also African-American. It already looked bad enough when the two white male suspects were being investigated by two white male prosecutors from their own community. By bringing in a Black woman from Atlanta to take over, Carr is effectively taking the race card off the table. The Republican AG avoided any mention of race in his announcement, of course, focusing instead on Holmes’ long record as both a prosecutor and a judge.

Speaking of race, we’ll probably be waiting a while to find out about the potential federal hate crime charges that Allahpundit wrote about yesterday. This is yet another area where you can see Carr’s efforts to avoid a situation where these proceedings blow up in his face and lead to accusations of incompetence, if not outright racism. Georgia doesn’t have a formal hate crime law to cover this situation, but by inviting the Department of Justice to review the matter, if there are no hate crime charges filed, Carr can simply shrug his shoulders and say that he did everything possible and it was the feds who dropped the ball. Yesterday, Justice Department spokeswoman Kerri Kupec said they are “assessing all of the evidence to determine whether federal hate crimes charges are appropriate.”

That was probably a wise move on Carr’s part also because, as AP pointed out last night, getting a conviction on hate crime charges (or even having charges filed) is far from a sure thing. They might still get the McMichaels in front of a jury on murder and/or assault charges (though a couple of jurors could derail that effort entirely) but proving that it was a “hate crime” will be a much tougher row to hoe.

There hasn’t been so much as a suggestion yet that either the father or the son said anything about Arbery in terms of his race. From the beginning, they’ve claimed that they were on the lookout for someone who had been suspected of burglaries in the area and they thought he matched the description. There are even videos showing a Black man of similar build entering properties in the neighborhood. You can certainly suspect that there might have been a racial component to their pursuit of Arbery, but proving it in court beyond a reasonable doubt would be an iffy proposition at best.

Frankly, I’ll be somewhat surprised if the DOJ even attempts it. Of course, they might try if only to show that the Trump administration is actively trying to get justice for a Black shooting victim in an election year. And, again, if they don’t manage a conviction, they can at least say they tried. Yesterday, Trump said he’s following the case “very closely” and that Arbery “looks like a wonderful young guy.” Read into that what you will.

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