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Ahmaud Arbery's mother reflects on son's death, one year later

Christian Boone, Bill Rankin and Asia Simone Burns, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on

Published in News & Features

She also believes if her son had not died, police would have arrested him.

“I often think that if they didn’t kill him, he was going to go to jail for lots of cases of burglary,” she said. “They were going to take him to jail for doing something, when he hadn’t done anything.”

Two months after Ahmaud’s death, Cooper-Jones had lost hope his killers would ever be held accountable. Then-Brunswick Judicial Circuit District Attorney Jackie Johnson, Greg McMichael’s former employer, had passed the case along to neighboring DA George Barnhill, who had a conflict of his own: his son had worked in Brunswick DA’s office with the elder McMichael.

Barnhill was prepared to clear the McMichaels and Bryan, writing in a letter to a Glynn police captain that “we do not see grounds for an arrest of any of the three parties.”

The case was transferred to another south Georgia prosecutor who would later determine his small office lacked the manpower to handle it. On May 5, an attorney acting on a request by Greg McMichael gave a copy of the video of Arbery’s shooting, recorded by Bryan, to a local radio station. It went viral within hours. By the end of the day the GBI had taken over the investigation. The Cobb County District Attorney’s Office will handle the prosecution.

On May 7, agents arrested the McMichaels. Ahmaud, in death, had become the face of a movement. The shooting would lead to the new hate crimes law. Jackie Johnson, a lightning rod of controversy during her tenure as DA, lost her bid for re-election, with many voters saying her handling of the Arbery case was the final straw.


And earlier this month, Gov. Brian Kemp announced a massive overhaul of the citizen’s arrest law cited by prosecutors who declined to bring charges against the McMichaels and Bryan. The new law would address concerns from critics who say it disproportionately targets Black Georgians.

Cooper-Jones has moved out of Brunswick, settling near family in Augusta. Living in Brunswick is just too painful.

“Some days I don’t get out of bed,” she said. “It’s just hard sometimes.”

So she keeps her focus on her son, preserving his memory in any way she can.


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