It’s been almost three years since Ahmaud Arbery was chased, trapped and gunned down by three bigots with ties to local law enforcement over the offense of jogging while Black. Those homicidal racists have since been tried, convicted and shipped off to prison, likely for the rest of their lives.
But months after the last conviction for his actual murder, one person who played a pivotal role by using her elected office to help the killers initially evade accountability is just now starting the process of facing her own accountability. Jackie Johnson, who was district attorney for Georgia’s Brunswick Judicial Circuit when Arbery was killed, will finally be arraigned Dec. 29. She will have to face a judge and enter a plea to charges that she violated her oath of office and improperly interfered with the investigation of Arbery’s killing by instructing Gwynn County cops not to make an arrest in the case.
Arbery’s killers, Travis McMichael, who actually shot Arbery, his father, Greg, a former investigator for Johnson’s office and William “Roddie” Bryan, have all had their days in court. But the long delay for Johnson shows how race and privilege can continue to shield people tied to law enforcement from consequences for their actions, especially when the victims are unarmed Black men with relatively little wealth or connections.
Most people accused of crimes are typically arraigned within weeks, if not days. Waiting a year and a half—Johnson was indicted in September 2021—is unheard of, Georgia defense attorney Dwight Thomas told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution last week.
What happened to Arbery has largely been adjudicated; not even the men wasting away behind bars for his death dispute their roles, but from the very beginning it was clear that they thought their race and their connections to the criminal justice system—to Johnson in particular—conveyed immunity. Bryan actually recorded the chase and murder, saying in an interview later that he believed that the video would help clear them.
The judge in Johnson’s case, John “Robbie” Turner, hasn’t said publicly what the hold up is. He still has a month before Johnson has to stand in front of him, but at any time between now and then he could rule on her defense team’s motion to dismiss the case—which means there’s still a chance Johnson never faces accountability at all.