US: Facebook posts in Arbery trial reflect online neighbor fear

EXPLAINER: What the defense in Arbery's killing is arguing

  EXPLAINER: What the defense in Arbery's killing is arguing ATLANTA (AP) — Travis and Greg McMichael said they armed themselves and sped after Ahmaud Arbery because they thought he was a burglar, and they wanted to catch him and hold him until police arrived. When the 25-year-old Black man turned and fought during the chase, they said, Travis McMichael shot him in self-defense. That's what the defense maintains in the trial of three white men accused in the killing of Arbery, who was shot three times in February 2020 near Brunswick, on the Georgia coast. The McMichaels, a father and son, and neighbor William “Roddie” Bryan are charged with murder and other crimes.

BRUNSWICK, Ga. (AP) — Months before Ahmaud Arbery was killed, shooter Travis McMichael wrote a simple, chilling response to a Facebook post about a suspected car burglary in his Georgia neighborhood: “Arm up.”

Defendant Travis McMichael looks on during during his trial at the Glynn County Courthouse, Friday, Nov. 19, 2021, in Brunswick, Ga.   Greg McMichael and his son, Travis McMichael, and a neighbor, William © Provided by Associated Press Defendant Travis McMichael looks on during during his trial at the Glynn County Courthouse, Friday, Nov. 19, 2021, in Brunswick, Ga. Greg McMichael and his son, Travis McMichael, and a neighbor, William "Roddie" Bryan are charged with the February 2020 slaying of 25-year-old Ahmaud Arbery. (Octavio Jones/Pool Photo via AP)

The item he commented on was sandwiched between chats about lost dogs and water service interruption, like in many online communities in the U.S. based around physical neighborhoods.

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  Defense attorney in trial of Ahmaud Arbery’s killers tries to have Rev. Jesse Jackson removed from courtroom Defense attorneys for the three white men on trial for killing Black jogger Ahmaud Arbery had their second attack in a week of Too Many Black Pastors syndrome as they tried to have the Rev. Jesse Jackson thrown out of the courtroom, where he had come to support the family. Superior Court Judge Timothy Walmsley said no.“The court is not going to single out any particular individual or group of individuals as not being allowed to be in this courtroom as a member of the public,” Walmsley said, according to NBC News. “If there is a disruption, you’re more than welcome to call that to my attention.” © Terry Dickson The Rev.

But in the year before Arbery's death, the posts in the Facebook group for the subdivision where McMichael lived portray a neighborhood increasingly on edge over low-level incidents, with residents swapping suspicions, keeping children inside and becoming willing to take matters into their own hands.

At a time of broad re-examination of race, criminal justice and the role of technology, such online neighborhood forums in the U.S. have a troubling tendency to veer from wholesome community chitchat to anxious hypervigilance when suspicion is the discussion topic.

Defendant Gregory McMichael looks on during his trial at the Glynn County Courthouse, Friday, Nov. 19, 2021, in Brunswick, Ga.  Greg McMichael and his son, Travis McMichael, and a neighbor, William © Provided by Associated Press Defendant Gregory McMichael looks on during his trial at the Glynn County Courthouse, Friday, Nov. 19, 2021, in Brunswick, Ga. Greg McMichael and his son, Travis McMichael, and a neighbor, William "Roddie" Bryan are charged with the February 2020 slaying of 25-year-old Ahmaud Arbery. (Octavio Jones/Pool Photo via AP)

“It causes people both to be more anxious, more on-alert or hypersensitive. But it also makes them more suspicious of someone not like them,” in a variety of ways, said media psychologist Pamela Rutledge. “It’s really sort of stacking the kindling, so to speak, because people are then watching for something to go wrong.”

Travis McMichael testifies he wasn't under threat during pickup chase before fatally shooting Ahmaud Arbery

  Travis McMichael testifies he wasn't under threat during pickup chase before fatally shooting Ahmaud Arbery Travis McMichael returned to the stand under cross-examination on Thursday, then the defense rested its case in the Georgia murder trial.Travis McMichael also told prosecutors he did not tell police some of the details about the pursuit that he shared in court on Wednesday.

Closing arguments are expected Monday in murder trial for McMichael and two other white men charged in the slaying of Arbery, whose death became part of a broader reckoning on racial injustice in the criminal legal system.

Father and son Greg and Travis McMichael grabbed guns and pursued Arbery in a pickup truck after seeing the 25-year-old Black man running in their neighborhood outside the Georgia port city of Brunswick in February 2020. William “Roddie” Bryan, who joined the pursuit in his own truck, took cellphone video of Travis McMichael shooting Arbery as he threw punches and grabbed for the shotgun.

Defendant William © Provided by Associated Press Defendant William "Roddie" Bryan listens to court proceedings during the trial for the killing of Ahmaud Arbery at the Glynn County Courthouse on Thursday, Nov. 18, 2021, in Brunswick, Ga. Greg McMichael, his son Travis McMichael, and neighbor William "Roddie" Bryan are charged with the February 2020 slaying of 25-year-old Ahmaud Arbery. (Sean Rayford/Pool Photo via AP)

They say that they were trying to lawfully stop burglaries in their neighborhood, and McMichael testified he shot Arbery in self-defense.

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  Trial takeaways: Arbery's killer testifies; pastors rally BRUNSWICK, Ga. (AP) — The man who fatally shot Ahmaud Arbery took the witness stand to tell jurors he pulled the trigger fearing for his own life. Meanwhile, hundreds of Black pastors rallied outside the Glynn County courthouse in coastal Georgia to show support for the slain 25-year-old Black man's family, compelled by a defense attorney's failed efforts to get prominent civil rights figures barred from the court. The trial of father and sonMeanwhile, hundreds of Black pastors rallied outside the Glynn County courthouse in coastal Georgia to show support for the slain 25-year-old Black man's family, compelled by a defense attorney's failed efforts to get prominent civil rights figures barred from the court.

He also testified that much of what he knew about local burglary reports came from the Facebook group for the Satilla Shores subdivision where he lived with his parents.

His “arm up" comment came in response to a July 2019 post, included in court documents, in which a woman warning of car burglaries said: “Remember, you can’t tell if a thief is a lightweight or a murderer.”

An item from that November referenced a Black man and a white couple recorded on back-to-back nights inside a home under construction five houses down from the McMichaels. Travis McMichael’s response: “They are really playing with fire.”

All sides agree the Black man was Arbery, who was recorded on video five different times inside the same house — including just before the McMichaels began their pursuit of him — though prosecutors say there’s no evidence he committed any crimes in the neighborhood.

One neighbor testified that a post about a car break-in prompted her to check her husband’s truck and discover some of his tools missing. Brook Perez said it "felt like a violation.”

What we learned from testimony in the trial over Ahmaud Arbery's killing

  What we learned from testimony in the trial over Ahmaud Arbery's killing Closing arguments are expected to begin Monday morning in the trial of Ahmaud Arbery's killing, after jurors heard from more than 20 witnesses, including the man who shot and killed the 25-year-old jogger. © Stephen B. Morton/Pool/AP Travis McMichael speaks from the witness stand during his trial Wednesday, Nov. 17, 2021, in Brunswick, Ga. Travis McMichael, who took the stand last week, his father Gregory McMichael and their neighbor William Bryan Jr.

Neighbor Lindy Cofer said people on the Facebook group swapped theories and suspicions behind who might be responsible for certain property crimes. Asked if she had ever been a victim of crime, Cofer said not for more than 30 years.

Satilla Shores resident Brook Perez testifies during the trial for the killing of Ahmaud Arbery at the Glynn County Courthouse on Thursday, Nov. 18, 2021, in Brunswick, Ga.  Greg McMichael, his son Travis McMichael, and neighbor William © Provided by Associated Press Satilla Shores resident Brook Perez testifies during the trial for the killing of Ahmaud Arbery at the Glynn County Courthouse on Thursday, Nov. 18, 2021, in Brunswick, Ga. Greg McMichael, his son Travis McMichael, and neighbor William "Roddie" Bryan are charged with the February 2020 slaying of 25-year-old Ahmaud Arbery. (Sean Rayford/Pool Photo via AP)

Scholars have long found that people who consume a lot of media tend to have a greater sense of fear, said David Ewoldsen, a Michigan State University professor who studies media and psychology. The strongest effect is with local news, because people know the area and identify with it.

On a neighborhood site, it's even closer to home and thus “magnifies the effect,” he said.

Humans have a “fight or flight” response to fear. When the spark is a social media post from a neighbor they know, people may want to somehow respond to the situation. “So you have all of that intertwined, and it’s going to it’s going to increase the likelihood of a violent response,” Ewoldsen said.

Attorneys make closing arguments in Ahmaud Arbery murder trial

  Attorneys make closing arguments in Ahmaud Arbery murder trial Jury hears closing arguments in Ahmaud Arbery murder trial.Arbery was running in the predominantly white Satilla Shores neighborhood of Brunswick on Feb. 23, 2020, when he was pursued by Gregory McMichael, 65, a former police officer, and his son, Travis, 35. Their neighbor, William "Roddie" Bryan Jr., 52, helped them to corner Arbery, following him in a pickup as he ran down the road.

Still, outright violence remains rare. In a case this year in wealthy Danville, California, some residents took to the social media platform Nextdoor to urge police to remove Tyrell Wilson, a Black homeless man, before a separate rock-throwing call culminated in a police officer fatally shooting him in the head.

“These platforms serve as vehicles to amplify and echo a feeling that your community is under assault,” said Steven Renderos, executive director of the group MediaJustice. Watching discourses himself, he's felt “there’s a way in which white vigilante-ism is praised and in a way in which Black existence is criminalized.”

Nextdoor has worked to curtail racism on its platform, including with diversity and inclusion training for its moderators, Renderos said. Facebook didn’t respond to an emailed request for comment from The Associated Press for this story.

Still, Renderos would like to see more transparency around the users’ demographic data to see whether it reflects the entire community, since artificial intelligence can only go so far in weeding out hate speech or violent language.

“At the end of the day,” he said, “what you can’t fix on the platform side is the racism that exists in those communities.”

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Whitehurst reported from Salt Lake City.

White Vigilante Trio Guilty of Murdering Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia .
The white men accused of needlessly chasing and fatally shooting Ahmaud Arbery in cold blood in Georgia last February in what critics described as a modern-day lynching under the guise of vigilante law enforcement were found guilty of murder on Wednesday. Travis McMichael was found guilty of the most serious offense, malice murder, in the Feb. 23, 2020 homicide death of Arbery. Greg McMichael, his father, was found not guilty of malice murder but convicted of all other eight charges against him, including felony murder. William Roddie Bryan, a family neighbor, was fou , one count of felony murder, and one count of aggravated assault.

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