Ahmaud Arbery lived and died in the mostly rural county of Glynn, Georgia. The county police force at the center of the controversy over Arbery’s death has a history of corruption and racism.
The department’s police chief, John Powell, was indicted along with three other current and former officers for corruption relating to the narcotics unit before Arbery’s shooting. There have also been charges of evidence tampering and covering up wrongdoing by officers. There was a movement to disband the Glynn County police department and merge it with the county sheriff’s department before the shooting in February that has now resulted in a bill being introduced in the Georgia Senate that would do just that.
Senate Bill 504 calls for a November ballot referendum that would allow voters to decide whether county leaders should disband the Glynn County Police department and merge resources with the county sheriff’s office.
The bill, introduced by Republican Sen. Bill Ligon earlier this year, was in direct response to controversy surrounding the Glynn County PD before Arbery’s February 23 shooting.
Specifically, Ligon, who has spent a decade in the state legislature and will not be seeking re-election, told WJCL-TV that he introduced his bill after a grand jury presentment on a sex scandal with drug informants and allegations of witness tampering.
As it turns out, the two men charged in the murder of Arbery had a connection to the department. Gregory McMichael was a former investigator for the Glynn County prosecutor. Gregory’s son Travis was also charged. They were finally arrested by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation on May 7.
The Glynn County police are blaming the lack of an arrest on prosecutors who advised against indicting the suspects. There have been calls from officials and state legislators for the district attorneys in question — Jackie Johnson and George Barnhill from neighboring counties — to step down.
Not everything is known about this incident and there has been the usual rush to establish a racial narrative to an incident where no one knows what really happened — except the McMichaels. And they’re not talking.
At a news conference Thursday, lawyers for Travis McMichael urged the public to withhold judgment until evidence is presented in court. “A young man has died and that is always a tragedy,” said attorney Robert Rubin. “But that does not mean that a crime has been committed.”
Laura Hogue, a lawyer representing Gregory McMichael, said in a statement, “So often the public accepts a narrative driven by an incomplete set of facts, one that vilifies a good person, based on a rush to judgment, which has happened in this case.”
In addition to grand jury indictments of the chief and some of his officers, the department lost its accreditation in 2017.
Ordinarily, the idea of disbanding a police department would be insane. But the history of policing in Glynn County is a disgrace. Efforts at reform have been futile and the Arbery shooting has highlighted the need for change in county law enforcement from top to bottom.
It’s not that the public would be left helpless if law enforcement functions were given to the elected sheriff. Perhaps at this point residents would think anything is better than what they have now.