It was a moment that many in Ahmaud Arbery’s community had long awaited.
More than two months after a black man was shot to death while running through a neighbourhood in the US state of Georgia, the white father and son arrested in the case have faced court on charges of felony murder and aggravated assault.
The pair stood quietly as the judge read the charges against them in the fatal shooting of Mr Arbery. In just a few minutes, their first court appearance was over.
Earlier in the day – on what would have been Mr Arbery’s 26th birthday – a boisterous crowd of several hundred people, most wearing masks to protect against the coronavirus, gathered outside the Glynn County courthouse for about 90 minutes and sang “Happy Birthday” in his honour.
With the coronavirus dominating the news and drastically altering Americans’ lives, Mr Arbery’s shooting initially drew little attention outside Brunswick, about 115 kilometres south of Savannah. The working class port city of about 16,000 also serves as a gateway to beach resorts on neighbouring St. Simons and Sea Islands.
The Satilla Shores neighbourhood where Mr Arbery was killed on February 23 lies at Brunswick’s edge, with comfortable brick and stucco homes nestled next to marshland. A wooden cross and flowers left as a memorial near the spot where Mr Arbery died was decorated with foil birthday balloons Friday.
A video of the shooting shared widely on social media Tuesday thrust the case into the national spotlight and prompted widespread outrage. The investigation led by local authorities had seemed stalled and, amid the national uproar, a prosecutor specially appointed last month asked the Georgia Bureau of Investigation to get involved. On Thursday evening, the GBI announced the arrests of Gregory and Travis McMichael.
WARNING: DISTRESSING CONTENT
This is Heart Breaking and Hard to Watch! Ahmaud Arbery was followed and shot and killed
Report filed by Glynn County police. The Killers later told police they believed he was a burglary suspect.
He Deserves Justice!
We should not start a Race War
We Should come together pic.twitter.com/JHpmTUppVc
— Terrence K. Williams (@w_terrence) May 7, 2020
Though the arrests were welcomed, Mr Arbery’s family and their supporters expressed frustration at the long wait and fears that the justice system will fail them.
“They did not arrest the killers of Ahmaud Arbery because they saw the video,” Benjamin Crump, an attorney for the slain man’s father, Marcus Arbery, told The Associated Press on Friday.
“They arrested the killers of Ahmaud Arbery because we saw the video, the public saw the video and it went viral. It was shocking. People were astonished.”
Gregory McMichael, 64, and Travis McMichael, 34, told police they pursued Mr Arbery, with another person recording them on video, after spotting him running in their neighbourhood. The father and son said they thought he matched the appearance of a burglary suspect who they said had been recorded on a surveillance camera some time before.
Ahmaud Arbery was murdered for being Black.
His White assailants were allowed to roam free *for months* after lynching him. They faced no charges, no arrests. Police had video of Ahmaud’s murder the day it happened.
His family deserves justice. Our country deserves answers.
— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) May 7, 2020
Mr Arbery’s mother, Wanda Cooper Jones, has said she thinks her son, a former high school football player, was just jogging in the Satilla Shores neighbourhood before he was killed.