“A moral panic is a widespread fear, most often an irrational one, that someone or something is a threat to the values, safety, and interests of a community or society at large….Moral panics are often centered around people who are marginalized in society due to their race or ethnicity, class, sexuality, nationality, or religion. As such, a moral panic often draws on known stereotypes and reinforces them. It can also exacerbate the real and perceived differences and divisions between groups of people. Moral panic is well known in the sociology of deviance and crime and is related to the labeling theory of deviance.”
The prosecution should have had an academic testify about moral panic. It is a familiar term, used all the time in sociology, especially among those who work in the fields of criminology and social deviance.
The people in Satilla Shores worked themselves up into a moral panic about crime in the neighborhood. It is relatively easy to create such a panic just by word of mouth. Social media just makes the creation of a moral panics easier. Once people started talking about, posting about, “intruders” in the neighborhood, and items being stolen, the narrative took on a life of it’s own.
Every unrecognized person becomes an “intruder.” Every misplaced item becomes “stolen.” Even when individuals encounter facts which disprove the “intruder/crime” label, they rarely go around the neighborhood and tell everybody that they were mistaken.
Several witnesses in this trial admitted that while they had heard that the owner of the construction site thought he had had items stolen from his boat, they never heard that Larry English had driven that boat back and forth to various locations and wasn’t sure himself where these items had been stolen. English never even told the police that the items were stolen in Satilla Shores.
It was brought out through testimony that strange cars were reported as being in the neighborhood only to later be identified as cars belonging to relatives of residents. Items that were reported as stolen (including a supposedly loaded gun belonging to Travis McMichael) were left in unlocked vehicles. One woman who testified whose purse was widely discussed, left her own purse in an unlocked car and it wasn’t stolen. Somebody reported that their brother-in-law had a case of beer stolen out of a car parked in Satilla Shores. (Folks, if you believe that one, you are really sheltered.)
What happens when people work themselves up into a moral panic is that every misplaced item becomes “stolen” and fodder for more gossip and speculation.
I watched every minute of the trial of the men who killed Ahmaud Arbery.
It was a weekday afternoon and the Medical Examiner took the stand. I was tired, everybody seemed tired. The Medical Examiner was not the most riveting witness. He had retired and then decided he wanted to go back to work, so he came to Georgia and was hired as the Medical Examiner. He was professional, soft spoken, and businesslike.
Like most people, probably, my mind was wandering.
Then, Bob Reuben, defense attorney for Travis McMichael asked the Medical Examiner (ME) if Ahmaud Arbery’s body had “long, dirty toenails.” The ME said yes.
What? My head popped up. Even my tired ears perked up. What the devil was that about?
I was appalled. What reason could Reuben have for asking such a question? But, no more was made out of it. I tweeted about it at the time. What reason, I asked, other than just trying to make Ahmaud Arbery seem distasteful, could the defense have for asking this question?
I found out the answer on Monday.
Laura Hogue, attorney for Greg McMichael, got up before the jury and blew every racist, fear mongering whistle imaginable. Then, she commented that Ahmaud Arbery was wearing tennis shoes, without socks to “cover his long dirty toenails.” Again, I was just appalled. She drew out the words, speaking every one of them distinctly as if conveying meaning to the jury. “…long……..dirty……toenails.”
This was no off-the-cuff remark. It was intentional, prepared for by Reuben asking the question of the ME. Hogue couldn’t have used in closing something that wasn’t entered into evidence. Reuben asked the question to get it in and Hogue followed up by using it in the closing.
Arbery’s parents were mortified. The father left the courtroom and both parents commented on the courthouse steps about how disgusting it was for the defense to try to smear Ahmaud Arbery’s character. I completely agree.
Lawyers on national television criticized the comment, but then defended Laura Hogue’s right to use it. As one attorney commented, the defense attorney has the obligation to use whatever it takes to defend the client. But, that is just bullshit.
It’s the kind of reasoning that allows lawyers to argue that they do not have any obligation to moral standards at all. And, it is simply not true. It’s the kind of argument that allows lawyers to sleep at night and be accepted at the Bar Association cocktail party. It makes me furious.
No lawyer had the obligation to use racist hate mongering and smear tactics to defend their client.
Hogue (female) has, of course, defended herself by saying that she was merely trying to demonstrate that Ahmaud Arbery was not a jogger. I’ve got news for her. Some people jog without socks. And, even if you accept the no-socks defense as fair game, the “long, dirty toenails” was not.
Trust me, the same lawyers who will gin up racial hatred and dehumanizing stereotypes will also try to pick a fascist jury, arouse fascist sentiments and dehumanizing stereotypes to defend Nazis. It’s only a matter of time. And they will go on national television and defend themselves and their colleagues will defend them as well.
This behavior by the defense, and it does not only apply to Hogue (the female) was planned defense strategy. Reuben asked the ME the question to get the testimony on the record. Hogue (the female) hit it out of the park. All the defense attorneys in this case are part of the racist defense strategy utilized throughout the entire trial and they should all be condemned, shunned and disbarred.
The State today called a witness from the State Crime Lab who testified to finding tee shirt fibers on the truck of William Bryan. When the state asked about the ease with which fibers can be transferred from one surface to the other, Defense attorney Gough objected.
Gough, in his usual, “let’s try to make a big deal out of nothing” strategy (to legal argument as well as life, it seems) tried to say that there was a “casym” of difference between what she testified to and what she wrote in her report.
She wrote in her report that she couldn’t exclude the possibility that the fibers were from Arbery’s tee shirt. She said in court that could not definitely say that these fibers were from Ahmaud Arbery’s tee shirt.
When Gough implied that he had uncovered the “Perry Mason” discrepancy in testimony, the technician replied that the two statements were not mutually exclusive. I really hope the jury is not hopelessly stupid.
When this witness took the stand, I started wondering how hard a person with a tee shirt on needed to come in contact with a truck door to leave fibers. Gough, evidently saw this as a problem as well since he objected when the State asked about different surfaces and the ease with which fibers can be transferred.
Gough also once again used the hopelessly inadequate investigation by the Glynn County Police (GCPD) to plant doubt in the minds of the jurors. He asked the technician if she had collected fibers from the grill of the truck, the front of the truck, the back of the truck. There was no objection about the relevance of this questioning.
The investigation by the GCPD has been a repeated theme for all the defense attorneys, but especially for Gough. They are using the fact that the GCPD virtually accepted every word said on the scene of the murder by the white defendants and didn’t investigate to create doubt. And there is a lot of room to maneuver here. GCPD did not separate the defendants; they did not search the defendants. They did not include the trucks in the crime scene and allowed at least Greg McMichaels to drive his own truck to the police station.
Again and again, the defense has used this against the state. This evidence wasn’t collected, this part of the crime scene wasn’t preserved. For example, Gough asked if the entire path of Arbery’s run was checked for evidence. He was implying that Arbery had a weapon that was not recovered. The defense attorneys are trying to encourage the jury to have doubt of guilt because the police failed to do an adequate investigation. It’s the O.J. Simpson defense.
Also, the defense attorneys have used the fact that the GCPD didn’t make any arrests as an indication that the men weren’t guilty. The argument is that they weren’t arrested at the time, so there was no reason to arrest them. I suppose, the extension of that thinking is that since “the media” has transformed this into a case about race, the men were only arrested because of inappropriate pressure by “civil rights activists.” (And we have Jesse Jackson sitting in the courtroom).
Jurors were questioned and some eliminated because they had supported the “social justice movement” (an ill defined term) in any way.
There are people on Twitter who believe that there is a chance of getting a guilty verdict in this case even with eleven white jurors. I am not that optimistic. Gough was a public defender in this county for decades. If nothing else, he knows his jurors and he is clearly laying a map for racist thinking in this case, providing pegs for the jury to put their racist Col. Sanders hats on.
At the end of the trial day yesterday, defense counsel Kevin Gough expressed his usual consternation on finding out that Al Sharpton had been sitting in the courtroom in the Ahmaud Arbery trial.
Gough, in typical fashion he has displayed throughout the trial, popped off and tried to make an enormous issue out of nothing. Gough maintained that the judge should bar Sharpton and other high profile black preachers from the courtroom. Gough specifically said that the presence of Sharpton was “intimidating.”
“We don’t want any more Black pastors coming in here,” Gough spouted, making a fool out of himself yet again. Various web sites posted photographs of his co-counsel putting her head in her hands as he spoke.
Gough, not having said enough had to use the phrase “these people” referring to exactly whom we don’t know.
Gough talked about Rev. Jesse Jackson as well and then finished up by saying that “If a bunch of folks came in here dressed like Col. Sanders with white masks sitting in the back…” people would protest. I am not at all sure what Col. Sanders has to do with anything, but that’s Kevin Gough.
It breaks my heart to know that Gough was the Glynn county Public Defender for years. He is such a disastrously bad lawyer I cannot imagine how many poor people are in prison because of his incompetence. Every person who went to prison after being defended by this man should have a new trial. It is just one more instance of total incompetence and corruption by the Glynn County government.
Gough, after other defense attorneys went to the mics to denounce his statement, apologized today just in case he had inadvertently insulted anybody.
And on he went as he has been going for decades.
After a particularly long and inane cross examination of the GBI investigator who took over the Arbery case today, it occurred to me that one of Gough’s strategies was to be so confusing that the witness appears confused. He then hopes that the witness will look more confused to the jury than he does. In this particular case, he is hoping that the young black female prosecutor will object to his confusion and therefore look like a bitch.
I just cannot imagine that this man has gotten away with this incompetence for decades. But, as one of the commentators after today’s performance pointed out, it could be that Gough is a person the jury identifies with. The commentator was pointing out that the GBI agent came off as smooth and professional. The commentator posited that the jury might well identify with the shambling, stumbling Gough rather than the outsider, the smooth, polished, intelligent GBI agent. I don’t know. I find it hard to believe that anybody could watch Kevin Gough, who has questioned whether Joe Biden is president in court, and think he is anything but a disaster.
Gough is like a bad actor who loves to act and has no idea that he is bad, really bad. I have seen hundreds of them. Now that I think about it, the entire “Gong Show” was based on such people.
Gough depends on making a lot of noise, but rarely has any legitimate legal point, and also seems completely disorganized. Today, he seemed unable to fix on any one theory of his case. He just kept throwing out option after option – Bryan was an idiot, Bryan had learning disabilities, Bryan was trapped by the GBI agent into saying things he didn’t mean, Bryan couldn’t remember what happened on the day of the killing and the GBI agent had taken advantage of him in some way, Bryan was only a witness, the GBI didn’t immediately arrest Bryan, throw it against the wall….
It did occur to me, however, that Gough had rather cleverly set up one of his defenses in advance. When Bryan went to the GBI to be questioned, Gough asked the GBI agent to come out of the room so he (Gough) could explain what a hard time Bryan had following and explaining what happened in narrative form. Gough essentially told the GBI agent that he had to talk down to Bryan, explain everything to him directly.
So, the GBI goes back in the interrogation room and explains things to Bryan as if he were a child, directly and simply. And then Gough gets up in court and accuses the GBI agent of putting words in Bryan’s mouth by directly explaining things to him. Gough set that one up, deliberately, methodically, and ahead of time.
But, I think Gough had not counted on the steely nature of this GBI agent. Gough started down a path of condemning the GBI agent for setting up a reenactment where the GBI agent drove the truck and asked Bryan to tell him what happened. Gough had made a point of telling the agent that Bryan was basically slow and he had to break down things to him and that Bryan had difficulty explaining things in a narrative fashion. Then, when the GBI agent set up the reenactment with himself driving, and Bryan telling him what to do, Gough attacks the agent for not having Bryan drive the truck.
Gough berated the agent saying, you just had to have this reenactment didn’t you, implying that the agent had forced the poor ignorant Bryan into doing this reenactment. The agent calmly fired back, you were the one who demanded the reenactment because you said Bryan couldn’t talk through this in a narrative form. Gough, didn’t skip a beat. And you took that as a “green light” he fired back. That’s my favorite quote of the day, perhaps of the week.
What happened in Satilla Shores in late 2019 and 2020, was what sociologists call a “moral panic.”
Neighbors in an almost exclusively white neighborhood started exchanging stories of supposedly stolen property, break ins. They posted these stories on the internet, specifically on a website that was a neighborhood sharing site.
They were drawn in and drew other people into a dramatic narrative. There was danger in the neighborhood.
People just like drama, most of them. And, this is a culture where crime drama is big business. Just think of the amount of money that is made off marketing crime, true and fiction.
There are entire TV networks that depend on crime for their cash stream. Think about Court TV, Headline News and all the reality crime shows like Cops. Think about the fictional crime series, Law and Order which I think is in it’s 100th season. People love a good crime drama.
In Satilla Shores, in late 2019 and into 2020, there was a great crime drama shaping up. The problem was that it was largely in the minds of the residents.
Larry English was building a house in Satilla Shores. He had been working on that house for over two years. The house was framed in, but without doors and windows at least in the front of the house. English did not live there. He lived in Douglasville and commuted back and forth to Brunswick to work on his house.
The house was completely open. There were no trespassing signs on it. There was no fence, there was essentially nothing to prevent any remotely curious person from coming in and walking around.
And, curious people did.
Larry English had had his boat parked at the house, in the opened RV garage. One day, when English got up on a ladder, he noticed that items had been stolen out of his boat. He then began telling neighbors that these items had been stolen. The problem was that English had not always had the boat parked at the property at Satilla Shores. He had taken the boat back and forth from Douglasville (and I presume other places). So, English had no idea that the property was stolen from the location at Satilla Shores.
But, either English didn’t make that clear to the neighbors, or they didn’t want to hear that. They started buzzing about things being stolen, intruders who might possibly be in the neighborhood.
Also during this time period, a neighbor down the street, Travis McMichael, left his gun in his truck, parked outside his house. His father, Greg, went out to move the truck and left it unlocked. The gun was reportedly stolen. This also set off a buzz in the neighborhood. A gun had been stolen, high drama.
I do not know, but I can imagine that in this circumstance, every other item that went missing in the neighborhood came to be yet another potentially stolen item, taken by the mysterious intruder, hyping the danger in the minds of the community.
A woman whose parents lived in the neighborhood testified on November 10, 2021 that her elderly parents were concerned about the amount of crime in the neighborhood and were therefore selling their house. But, when you look at the official Glynn County data, this crime wave does not appear. There was only one officer assigned to the entire area and it was considered a “low call” area for the police. 
But anyone can imagine how this worked. The drama grew. Items went missing. Neighbors had something to talk about, post about. All of a sudden, people had a mission, an endeavor that was larger than all of them and that united them in a common cause.
In steps Ahmaud Arbery, doing what I and countless people have done hundreds of times before, and walks into the open construction site to look around. I want to make clear here. I grew up in Georgia. I live in Georgia now. I have gone in a number of partially completed houses while out on a walk. I have also gone in repeatedly to a house that was completed and had a door that was unlocked. But, I am a 70-year-old white woman. I am not a young black man with “dred locks” “fuzzy hair” “tatoos all down both arms” “colored”.
In the middle of all this drama, the perfect victim walked in. Every racist joke and stereotyped reaction came to play to home in on this one young black man. “Ya got ‘em?” That’s what William Bryan shouted out to the two McMichael men in their truck following Arbery down the street.
The crime drama was about to be solved by two, then three, self imagined heroes. “Ya got ‘em?” Oh hell yeah, we got him. These three men did what thousands and thousands of white men have done over the years in this country. They targeted a young black man, armed themselves and hunted him down, they cornered him “like a rat.”  And then they killed him.
These men saw themselves as the avenging angels in this story. You can still tell by looking at them that they feel that they are ones who are aggrieved here. They are the ones who have been wronged.
Travis McMichael stood over the body of Ahmaud Arbery and expostulated “Damn Nigger.”  Travis McMichael was swearing at Ahmaud Arbery, and/or about Ahmaud Arbery. That N made me do this. It’s all his fault. And that’s exactly what the defense attorneys in this case are arguing.
This is all Arbery’s fault. If he hadn’t been in the neighborhood. If he hadn’t been curious. If he hadn’t run. If he had talked to them. If he hadn’t reached into his pants. If he hadn’t run at Travis. If he had stopped. If he hadn’t been “hauling ass,” nothing would have ever happened. Everything would be alright.
White men commit the most unspeakable crimes and then blame it on the damn victim.
 Much has been made during the trial by the Defense that Greg McMichael is a trained law enforcement officer. Bur, this trained law enforcement officer left a gun in an unlocked truck outside his home. Any neighborhood child could have come and taken the gun and shot himself or others with it.
 When the Prosecution moved to place these official crime statistics into evidence, the defense objected. The official statistics were “hearsay” claimed the defense even though this data was submitted regularly to the FBI and became part of national crime statistics. The prosecution was required to “certify” the information. We do not know how this happens or if the Prosecution will try to put the crime statistics on the record again.
 This is a direct quote from a statement made by Greg McMichael.
 I have never written that word before in my life and I have never said it unless I was describing another person’s statement. I grew up in the South. I know what that word means.
The state’s witness this morning is Larry English who evidently has to testify by video because he has health problems. I would like to point out that his health problems didn’t keep him from starting and participating in this moral panic that men were creating in Satilla Shores over items that MIGHT HAVE been stolen from his property.
I am from Georgia and I now live in Georgia and it has been years, decades since I have heard black people referred to as “colored” and “do what” used as “Pardon” or “What.” It’s like these men lived in a bubble from the past.
The state played the 911 call English made to the Glynn County Police. In it he reports a “colored guy” in describing the trespasser on his property that he can see only in a low-quality surveillance video. He also says that the guy is “tattooed down both arms” and that he is “on drugs.” He can see from this video that the young man is on drugs.
In his testimony after the 911 call was played he said that this was a “spur of the moment” phone call and that he thought Arbery was on drugs because he appeared to be unsteady on his feet. He also claimed that he was phoning in part because he was concerned with Arbery’s safety. It was a dangerous site and someone might fall if they are unfamiliar with the site.
Updates on the trial of the men who killed Ahmaud Arbery.
The judge in the Ahmaud Arbery murder case has ruled that recordings made of jailhouse phone calls of the three white men who chased Arbery down and killed him in the street, will not be excluded in the trial. The defense had argued to exclude the calls. (Court TV, 10/13/21)
Depending on what is on the tapes, this could be a blow to the defense. But, the ruling is no surprise. There are signs all over the place in jails an prisons warning inmates that their conversations are being recorded. You would have to be a fool, or someone who thought that you were not subject to the rules or the law, to ignore the warnings and conduct incriminating conversations over the telephone.
Anyone who watches trials or court news will remember the revealing conversations between Kasey Anthony and her parents while she was incarcerated. Anthony did not admit her guilt, but her behavior was enough to raise serious questions about her stability and responsibility. But, as watchers of court news also know, she was found not guilty.
The Confederate Vanity Plate
Similarly, defense attorneys are trying to exclude a photograph of Travis McMichael’s truck that shows his confederate flag vanity plate. While prosecutors have reportedly said that they will not introduce evidence of racial motivation in their case in chief, they have said nothing about introducing such information in their rebuttal case.
A defense attorney interviewed by the Atlanta Journal Constitution has argued that the defendants are likely to testify since the task for defense attorneys has to be to make these men human and understandable. If one of the men claims that he had no racial bias or animus, this opens the door for the prosecution to introduce evidence that demonstrates racism (Atlanta Journal Constitution
The same defense attorney, commenting as an expert, argued that she thought the introduction of the vanity plate as evidence would be highly prejudicial to Travis McMichaels. I am not so sure. Growing up in Georgia, I would guess that jurors have seen these confederate symbols all their lives and know people who have displayed them. I am not sure that the presence of the symbol on McMichael’s truck will be that influential. I am not arguing that it should not be, just that I am not sure it will be.
Gregory McMichael was an investigator for the DA’s office for more than 20 years and was a Glynn County police officer for seven years before that. He retired in May of 2019.
When Gregory McMichaels saw a young man jogging past his house, he called to his son. They immediately armed themselves, jumped in a pick up truck, and drove after Arbery. They cut him off in the street with their truck and the truck of a neighbor who (of couse) saw the chase and joined in. They shot and killed Arbery in the street.
Three men, saw a black man jogging past their houses, armed themselves and gave chase. Defense attorneys plan to argue that information Arbery was on probation should be admitted to the trial because that information explains why Arbery ran from the men.
First, Arbery was already running. He was jogging. He wasn’t in the beginning running FROM anybody. Second, the fact that he kept running and did not stop does not necessarily mean he was running FROM the three men. Third, Arbery had no obligation to stop running because someone ordered him to. Even if you concede that Arbery was running FROM the men at some point in the chase, what of it? I am a 71 year old white woman and I would have run from three white men (two of them armed) in pick up trucks who were driving after me and trying to cut me off when I was walking down a residential street. Third, none of these men could have known that Arbery was on probation, and even if they did, they had no right to stop him.
Greg McMichaels has agued that he thought Arbery was a man who had burglarized a house in the area that was under construction. But the owner of the house had access to all the video from the site. The owner did not phone the police or become concerned about anything he saw on the videos. So, who does Greg McMichaels think he is to try to hold a man even if he entered the house site? Second, there is video of various people walking in and out of the house site. Why is Arbery considered different from the other people (white) who entered the construction site? Third, McMichaels has provided no evidence to demonstrate why he thought Arbery was one of the people on the video tape who had entered the house.
It is obvious that Gregory McMichaels still considered himself active law enforcement, able to chase, stop and detain other people at will. And, also McMichaels also thought he was perfectly within his rights to arm himself and chase down another human being. None of the men saw Arbery commit any crime. They saw a black man in a predominately white neighborhood and assumed he had committed a crime. They armed themselves and hunted him down and killed him in the street.
A GBI investigator testified that Travis McMichaels used the N word in the conversation that occurred with the police officers who arrived on the scene of Arbery’s killing.
On a Sunday afternoon, February 23, 2020, Ahmaud Arbery jogged through a neighborhood in Glynn County, Georgia. He had jogged in the neighborhood before.
But this jog ended with a retired police investigator, Greg McMichaels, and his son Travis, arming themselves and jumping into their pickup truck to pursue Arbery. Travis McMichaels shot Arbery in the street and killed him.
For nearly three months, police, prosecutors, and press DID NOTHING. Only when a video of the killing surfaced on social media was national attention focused on the case and the inaction of the local authorities.
Another man in the Satilla Shores neighborhood where the killing took place, phoned 911 about Arbery jogging. After a few seconds, the caller said, obviously excited: “He’s running now” referring to Arbery. The 911 operator asked: “What is he doing?” Then, she asked: “I just need to know what he was doing wrong.”
That is the question we are all left with. Your answer to that question says as much about you as it does about the people involved.
Every citizen needs to listen to “Buried Truths,” the podcast about the murder of Ahmaud Arbery based on an investigation conducted by members of Emory University.
On a Sunday afternoon, February 23, 2020, Ahmaud Arbery jogged through a neighborhood in Glynn County, Georgia. He had jogged in the neighborhood before.
But, this jog ended with a retired police investigator and his son, Greg and Travis McMichaels, jumping into their pick up truck and pursuing Arbery. They shot Arbery in the street and killed him.
For nearly three months, the police, prosecutors, and press DID NOTHING. Only when a video of the killing surfaced on social media was national attention focused on the case and the total lack of action about the murder.
Another man in the Satilla shores neighborhood phoned 911 about Arbery jogging. After a few seconds, the caller said: “He’s running now” referring to Arbery. The 911 operator asked: “What is he doing?” Then, she asked: “I just need to know what he was doing wrong.”
Every citizen of this country needs to listen to the podcast about the murder of Ahmaud Arbery based on an investigation conducted by members of Emory University.