Subdivision’s social posts reflected fear before Arbery shot

Nov 20, 2021, 9:24 AM | Updated: Nov 25, 2021, 11:06 pm
Defendant Travis McMichael looks on during during his trial at the Glynn County Courthouse, Friday,...

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)

(Octavio Jones/Pool Photo via AP)

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.”

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.

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.

“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.”

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.

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

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.”

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.

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.

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.”

___

Whitehurst reported from Salt Lake City.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

FILE - A man holds a sign urging increased access to the monkeypox vaccine during a protest in San ...
Associated Press

US will stretch monkeypox vaccine supply with smaller doses

WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. health officials on Tuesday authorized a plan to stretch the nation’s limited supply of monkeypox vaccine by giving people just one-fifth the usual dose, citing research suggesting that the reduced amount is about as effective. The so-called dose-sparing approach also calls for administering the Jynneos vaccine with an injection just under […]
18 hours ago
Associated Press

WA GOP House member who voted to impeach Trump concedes

OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) — Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, one of two Republican members of Washington’s congressional delegation who voted to impeach former President Donald Trump, has conceded her reelection bid after being overtaken in late vote tallies by an intraparty challenger. Trump had targeted the six-term incumbent and endorsed Joe Kent, a former Green Beret, […]
18 hours ago
FILE - Vermont state Sen. Becca Balint, who is seeking the Democratic Party nomination to run for V...
Associated Press

Vermonters Democratic House member will seek Senate seat

MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) — Vermont voters have chosen U.S. Rep. Peter Welch in the Democratic Party primary Tuesday to replace retiring Democratic U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy, who has held the seat since 1975 and was the last of Congress’s so-called Watergate babies. Welch, the state’s lone member of the House of Representatives, easily defeated two […]
18 hours ago
Associated Press

Army: 2 soldiers dead in weather-related incident in Georgia

FORT BENNING, Ga. (AP) — Two soldiers based at Fort Benning, Georgia, died and three others were injured in a weather-related incident Tuesday during training on a mountain in the northern part of the state, Army officials said Tuesday. An Army spokesperson told WAGA-TV that the deceased soldiers, whose names have not yet been released, […]
18 hours ago
FILE - Former President Donald Trump speaks at a rally Friday, Aug. 5, 2022, in Waukesha, Wis. The ...
Associated Press

Did Trump break the law? FBI search raises fresh questions

WASHINGTON (AP) — The year was 2016, the presidential candidate under investigation was Hillary Clinton and the FBI director at the time, James Comey, laid out the factors the Justice Department weighs in deciding whether to charge someone with mishandling classified records. Fast forward to 2022 and that tutorial proves instructive as another candidate from […]
18 hours ago
FILE - Anne Heche arrives at the premiere of "The Tender Bar" on Dec. 12, 2021, at the TCL Chinese ...
Associated Press

Anne Heche in critical condition, on ventilator after crash

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Anne Heche remained hospitalized on a ventilator to help her breathe and faced surgery Tuesday, four days after the actor was injured in a fiery car crash. “Shortly after the accident, Anne became unconscious, slipping into a coma and is in critical condition,” spokeswoman Heather Duffy Boylston said in an email. […]
18 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

...
Sanderson Ford

Don’t let rising fuel prices stop you from traveling Arizona this summer

There's no better time to get out on the open road and see what the beautiful state of Arizona has to offer. But if the cost of gas is putting a cloud over your summer vacation plans, let Sanderson Ford help with their wide-range selection of electric vehicles.
...
CANVAS ANNUITY

Best retirement savings rates hit 4.30%

Maximize your retirement savings with guaranteed fixed rates up to 4.30%. Did you know there is a financial product that can give you great interest rates as you build your retirement savings and provide you with a paycheck for life once you retire? It might sound too good to be true but it is not; this product is called an annuity.
...
Day & Night Air Conditioning, Heating and Plumbing

Tips to lower your energy bill in the Arizona heat

Does your summer electric bill make you groan? Are you looking for effective ways to reduce your bill?
Subdivision’s social posts reflected fear before Arbery shot