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Arbery's Death Reveals Rifts That Ga. Community Still Grapples With

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

One year ago today on a coastal Georgia street, Ahmaud Arbery was chased and shot. It would be months before most of the world heard about the death and before police arrested suspects. From WABE, Emma Hurt reports on how the story changed Arbery's community.

EMMA HURT, BYLINE: It's been a year, but the grief of Ahmaud Arbery's family, including his father, Marcus Arbery, hasn't gotten any easier to bear.

MARCUS ARBERY: Because one thing about it, they took a part of me that will never be put - be able to put back. When them monsters killed my baby boy, that's a part of me nobody can put back.

HURT: Arbery became a household name in May after a video showed the 25-year-old, Black Brunswick, Ga., native jogging down a street when he was chased by three white men and shot. Recently released police body cam footage shows one of those men, Greg McMichael, justifying his actions, his hands still covered in Arbery's blood.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

GREG MCMICHAEL: So I'm standing in my front yard. Just a little while ago, this guy comes hauling ass down the street, like I said, I mean, like something's after him.

HURT: McMichael said he and his son Travis thought they were chasing a repeat burglar in the neighborhood.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MCMICHAEL: Travis grabs his shotgun because we don't know if this guy's armed because the other night, the guy stuck his hand down his pants, which lead Travis to think he was armed.

HURT: There's been no evidence Arbery committed the burglaries. But the McMichaels' story stuck until that video leaked. New prosecutors took over. And the men were arrested. In Glynn County, hundreds gathered often to protest, like back in May outside the courthouse.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JOHN PERRY: Justice is not just trying the McMichaels.

HURT: John Perry was president of the Brunswick NAACP at the time.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PERRY: Justice is also saying that we've got to clean up the house of Glynn County, that we've got to have a law enforcement and that we've got to have a system that will do right by all people.

HURT: No trial has been scheduled for the cases against the McMichaels and their neighbor, William Roddie Bryan, who took the video. But all three men remain in jail. Then there's the local DA, Jackie Johnson. Her name came up a lot at that rally.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PERRY: We came to tell Jackie Johnson your time is up.

HURT: Last year, Johnson lost her reelection bid by 30 points thanks to a write-in campaign. Cedric King, a Brunswick community organizer, says that was because of a persistent, coordinated effort.

CEDRIC KING: That activism cannot do anything but give everybody hope and optimism for what the future can be if you handle things the right way.

HURT: King says Arbery's death has sparked new dialogue between local churches, nonprofits and business leaders. He argues the tone was set by the peaceful, multiracial protests in Brunswick last summer.

KING: Our community was the only community that did not burn down. We had protests. But we didn't have riots. Hopefully, we can be a model of how, even in the wake of a tragedy, you can come together and move forward.

HURT: County Commissioner Allen Booker, the sole Black commissioner in Glynn, agreed that conversations have changed. He's been trying to make progress on police reform for years.

ALLEN BOOKER: This movement has raised the consciousness of folk who may have been on the bubble or been willing to say slow walk it to understand that, you know, we've got to root out this hate. And we've got to step up better than we have in the past.

HURT: Almost half of new police recruits in Glynn County are now people of color, he says. A new police chief search will prioritize a shift to community-based policing. Booker and other advocates have proposed a citizen's review board for the department. And he says his fellow commissioners are really listening.

BOOKER: And want to see real progress and want to have a police department that is a model for the country. Since the world is looking at us, we might as well.

HURT: Tonight, Arbery's friends and family will hold a memorial walk on the street where he was killed and a vigil at his gravesite.

For NPR News, I'm Emma Hurt.

(SOUNDBITE OF TAYLOR MCFERRIN SONG, "POSTPARTUM") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.