August 9, 2022

Ahmaud Arbery
Ahmaud Arbery, mural by artist Marvin Weeks, in Brunswick Credit: Jeffery M. Glover/ The Current

The color of his skin

The eyes of the nation were once again on Coastal Georgia yesterday, as a federal judge sentenced three white Brunswick men to additional time in prison for their convictions on federal hate crimes in the February 2020 murder of Ahmaud Arbery.

“There was an air of relief following the sentencing” says The Current’s Jake Shore, who was in the courtroom yesterday when U.S. District Court Judge Lisa G. Wood handed down the sentences. There was also a sense, he says, that a reckoning for those who killed Arbery came far too close to not happening.

In his story about the day’s events, Shore quotes Arbery’s mother, Wanda Cooper-Jones, as saying it took 74 days for an arrest to be made in her son’s murder.

In her devastating capitulation of the case, Judge Wood told Travis McMichael, who shot Arbery to death, “A jury found that you acted because of the color of Mr. Arbery’s skin.”

In this space devoted to politics, it’s worth noting that until Arbery’s murder, a state hate-crimes law had been stalled for years in the Georgia General Assembly. Less than four months after the 25-year-old Arbery was chased down in pickup trucks in the Satilla Shores and killed, lawmakers in Atlanta approved the legislation.

The relevance and enforcement of federal and state hate-crimes laws is hotly debated by defense attorneys, prosecutors and legal scholars, most recently after the Atlanta spa shootings in 2021, in which eight people were killed, including six women of Asian descent. What is not debatable is how bias based on race, gender, religion, and sexual preference crop ups regularly in the commission of crimes.

Case in point: The Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office was determining whether four white men committed a hate crime when they entered a Black-owned restaurant on Daufuskie Island last Tuesday and asked whether it was a “colored-owned restaurant,” then asked if it was a “n—-owned restaurant.” After the owner fled in fear, the men vandalized the restaurant. If local investigators determine that race was a factor in the incident, federal investigators will be called in, the WSAV report said.

Hulu’s “The Girl from Plainville” filmed throughout the Savannah area. Credit: Screenshot from movie trailer.

‘Dump Georgia,’ California governor tells Hollywood

Singling out the legislatures of Georgia and Oklahoma who, he says, have waged a “cruel assault” on “reproductive freedom” and other “essential rights,” California Gov. Gavin Newsom urged the film and television industry in an open letter last week to choose between its workers and “supporting anti-abortion states that rule with hatred.”

The open letter, which was posted to Newsom’s Twitter account and ran last week as a full-page ad in the trade publication Variety, was paid for by the governor’s campaign committee. In it, Newsom said, “Today, more than ever, you have a responsibility to take stock of your values — and those of your employees — when doing business in those states.”

Asked for reaction to Newsom’s salvo, Beth Nelson, executive director of the Savannah Regional Film Commission, said, “I’m not familiar with what’s going on in California. I can’t comment on that.”

Lee Thomas, deputy commissioner of the Georgia Film, Music & Digital Entertainment Office, didn’t reply yesterday to a request for comment.

Any scaling back in Georgia by Hollywood would hurt. In fiscal year 2021, the film and television industry set a new record with $4.1 billion in direct spending on productions in the state. Direct local spending in Savannah was $113,712,348 — a five-fold increase over the previous year.

A takeaway: Policies have consequences, sometimes unforeseen. Newsom’s letter, while at least partly a campaign gambit, followed just days after organizers of the enormously popular Music Midtown, Atlanta’s September music festival, were forced to cancel the event, reportedly because they could not ban guns at the public venue because of the state’s gun laws.

At a Savannah rally in 2020, Maulik Patel holds up a sign that says, “desis for Ossoff Warnock” at a rally for Democratic Senate candidates Jon Ossoff and Rev. Raphael Warnock.

‘Thank you, Georgia’

Senate Democrats passed their signature climate, tax and health care package on Sunday, handing a long-sought victory to President Joe Biden and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer. The package is far smaller than the $3.5 trillion legislation that Democrats originally envisioned. One assessment? “The legislation still amounts to the biggest changes to the health system in about a decade.”

“Thank you, Georgia — you made this possible,” said Georgia Sen. Raphael Warnock, referring to the runoff victories by he and Sen. Jon Ossoff in January 2021 that gave Democrats a majority in the U.S. Senate.

The “Inflation Reduction Act of 2022” now heads to the Democrat-dominated House of Representatives, where its passage is assured.

Coastal Georgia’s congressman, Earl L. “Buddy” Carter, has weighed in already, telling Newsmax on Friday: “This will literally put fuel on the fire. This is the worst thing that we can do. You do not raise taxes during the recession.”

A significant portion of those taxes isn’t unpopular, however: A corporate minimum tax that would require firms with more than $1 billion in annual profits to pay a tax rate of at least 15 percent.

Rudy Guiliani talks with Georgia State Sens. Jen Jordan (D-Atlanta) and Elena Parent (D-Atlanta) during a break in a Georgia State Senate hearing in 2020. Credit: Stephen Fowler / GPB News


Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams lays out her economic vision for the Georgia in a major address Tuesday night. As of late Monday, Rudy Giuliani was still trying to delay his scheduled appearance today before a Fulton County grand jury investigating Donald Trump’s efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 election, so Abrams’s address could well end up the biggest political news of the day.

Sneak peek: “Georgians do not have to choose between “strong economy and an extremist agenda,” Abrams said last week in a preview of her address.

McMichaels get federal life sentence for hate crime in Arbery killing

Judge: “A jury found that you acted because of the color of Mr. Arbery’s skin.”

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Republican PAC launches ads targeting Herschel Walker

Spot features candidate’s ex-wife describing violence toward her.

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Film industry sets record for spending in Georgia

Film, TV productions brought $4.4 billion and added construction of studio complexes.

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Georgia lawmakers seek solutions to homelessness after criminalization bill stalled

New bill will likely use various remedies instead of only criminal penalties.

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Craig Nelson

Craig Nelson is a former international correspondent for The Associated Press, the Sydney (Australia) Morning-Herald, Cox Newspapers and The Wall Street Journal. He also served as foreign editor for The...