Bodycam footage from 2017 shows Ahmaud Arbery was approached by two Glynn County Police officers while relaxing in a Brunswick, Georgia, park.
Arbery was at Townsend Park in the early morning hours of Nov. 7, 2017, listening to music in his car when Officer Michael Kanago drove up and got out of the car to approach the young Black man, who responded by immediately exiting his Toyota. The video was obtained by The Guardian newspaper through a public records request.
“Mr. Ahmaud Arbery immediately exited the vehicle,” Kanago wrote in a police report. “Arbery was wearing a heavy winter coat without a shirt. In my experience as a sworn police officer, immediately exiting a vehicle can be associated with running on foot, violent engagement, and intoxication.”
Kanago asked Arbery why he was there.
“I’m off work today,” Arbery replied. He told Kanago it was his only day off and he was sitting in the car rapping along to instrumental music.
Kanago asked for identification, which Arbery provided, and took it to his cruiser. Arbery became irritated as time progressed and asked for his license.
“What the f–k did you come over here for?” Arbery asked. “What the f–k you come over and f–k with me for? I’m just chilling in the park.” He asked a few more times before he received an answer.
“Because this area is known for drug activity,” Kanago said. The answer upset Arbery, who insisted he did nothing wrong. He also reminded Kanago that he had just told him he was legally employed. Kanago called for backup and checked him for weapons. Even though Arbery was fussing, he allowed the officer to pat him down and nothing was found.
Officer David Haney arrived a few minutes later and Kanago did not inform him Arbery was unarmed but told him he saw a plastic baggy in Arbery’s car. Haney demanded Arbery remove his hands from his pockets. He also fired a stun gun at Arbery who was complying with the officers’ demands, but the device malfunctioned, so he made Arbery lie down on the ground.
Even though Kanago knew Arbery was unarmed before the other officer arrived, he wrote Haney tried to use the stun gun “to protect himself and I from the possibility of death or seriously bodily harm.”
After he was cuffed, Arbery calmly explained why he was upset.
“I get one day off a week … I’m up early in the morning trying to chill,” Arbery told the officers “I’m just so aggravated because I work hard, six days a week.”
Kanago asked Arbery if he could search the car but he refused to allow it.
Arbery was eventually allowed to leave but he could not drive his car because his license was suspended.
Less than three years later, on Feb. 23, Arbery was shot and killed following a struggle over a shotgun. Travis McMichael, the owner of the gun, and his father George were arrested and charged for the death. S. Lee Merritt, a lawyer representing the Arbery family, believes the media is focusing on the wrong issue.
“We see a common process in almost every one of these cases,” Merritt said during a joint news conference with a local NAACP branch on Tuesday in the Atlanta suburb of East Point. “You have a victim shot dead in the streets, and give it a few days, and suddenly you start seeing images of that victim cast in a light as a criminal. What we have not seen in the media at all is a thorough review of the history of the McMichaels, the men who are actually in jail today because of their actions for the murder of Ahmaud Arbery.”
Media coverage of Arbery’s case has sparked outcry online too.
“Character assassination attempt. Fail,” wrote one YouTube commenter.
“This video only helps Arbery. The guy was minding his own business and was harassed by the cops. He had no weapon and complied,” tweeted one person. “Hell, it wasn’t even the cops who killed him. May he RIP. This was so wrong.”
“The old tactics assassinate his character to justify why he was killed,” wrote another critic.
Details about Arbery’s life before the shooting have been hitting the media as his death receives more attention. Surveillance footage showing Arbery exploring an unfinished house in the Satilla Shores neighborhood where he was killed has been widely covered.
On Tuesday, Glynn County police released a video of him being arrested at a Brunswick Walmart in December 2017 on a shoplifting charge.
“For whatever reason, whoever is releasing this information, that’s where they want the focus of the media to be,” Merritt said. “We’re not going to play that game. We’re going to keep the focus where it belongs.”