The US charged three white men in Georgia on Wednesday with federal hate crimes and the attempted kidnapping of Ahmaud Arbery, a Black man who died last year after they gunned him down while he was jogging through a suburban neighbourhood.
The Justice Department said that former police officer Gregory McMichael, 65, his son Travis McMichael, 35, and William “Roddie” Bryan, 51, were each charged with one count of interference with rights and with one count of attempted kidnapping.
Travis and Gregory McMichael are also additionally facing charges for using guns to carry out acts of violence.
President Joe Biden’s administration has since his inauguration three months ago stepped up enforcement of civil rights laws, which activists complained were neglected during his predecessor Donald Trump’s presidency.
It comes as federal officials have moved quickly to open sweeping investigations into troubled police departments as civil rights take centre stage among the department’s priorities.
The federal hate crime charges add to the legal woes for the three men, already facing state criminal charges of malice murder, felony murder, aggravated assault, false imprisonment and criminal attempt to commit a felony.
A trial date for the state charges has yet to be set.
Arbery’s death sparked fury after his killing was caught on video and went viral on social media in May 2020, weeks after his February 23 death.
His death was among several high-profile killings of Black people last year to set off nationwide protests.
Also killed in 2020 were George Floyd, an unarmed Black man who died under the knee of white police officer Derek Chauvin, and Breonna Taylor, who was killed in her home after police in Louisville, Kentucky, executed a no-knock warrant.
A Minneapolis jury earlier this month convicted Chauvin in Floyd’s murder.
Attorney General Merrick Garland this month opened civil investigations into police misconduct in Minneapolis and Louisville.
The department is also conducting criminal investigations into the killings of Floyd and Taylor.