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Kandi Burruss on her career-changing ‘The Masked Singer’ experience: “‘Housewives’ definitely sometimes dumbs down my accomplishments”

Before Kandi Burruss was the star of The Real Housewives of Atlanta, she was better known as an accomplished singer and songwriter — first breaking out in the ‘90s girl group Xscape, and then co-penning smash hits like P!nk’s debut single “There You Go,” Destiny’s Child’s “Bills, Bills, Bills,” and TLC’s “No Scrubs.” But her solo singing career, despite multiple attempts, never really took off. And as she drew hate on social media from trolling RHOA fans, she lost her mojo and put music on the back burner.

But after winning The Masked Singer Season 3, Burruss has gotten her groove back. She just dropped a new single, “Used to Love Me,” and she has some new songwriting projects in the works – plus she’s collecting big paychecks from her writing credits on recent tracks by Ed Sheeran and Ariana Grande.

The day after Burruss, a.k.a. the Night Angel, picked up her Golden Mask trophy, Yahoo Entertainment spoke with her about her career, her crisis of confidence, competing against Chaka Khan (a.k.a. Miss Monster), and the “guardian angel” that inspired her costume and watched over her Masked Singer run.

Yahoo Entertainment: Congratulations on winning The Masked Singer! You definitely earned that Golden Mask, but I was surprised by how many times on the show you confessed that you doubted yourself, considering that you’ve had such success in the music industry. Why were you insecure?

Kandi Burruss: Well, I think you can even Google it, where people have said, “Oh, Kandi can’t sing” or “I hate her voice.” Because I have a heavy vibrato, people have said all kinds of mean things about my singing voice. And it just made me really not confident in my voice anymore. So I was feeling like, “OK, well, maybe it’s not that good. And maybe my sound is just not hot for pop today.” I don’t know what people were judging me by, because it’s not like I’ve been really putting out any music lately. I don’t know if it just because they were mad at me on the Housewives and stuff like that. But those criticisms started to really get in my mind.

You’ve written some huge songs. You were in a really big group. You have won Grammys. Do you think because you’re on The Real Housewives of Atlanta, there might be some people don’t give you enough respect for your music career?

Honestly, I’m just going to keep it one hundred with you: I feel like being on the Housewives definitely sometimes dumbs down my accomplishments that I’ve had in other areas. And don’t get me wrong, I love being a part of that show. I love being on Housewives, but because it’s known for pettiness and drama, it kind of takes away from the legit accomplishments in my life. And sometimes because people are maybe not your fan — they may be the fan of somebody else [on Real Housewives] who may be my enemy, or whatever — they’ll just attack me, or attack my accomplishments. Obviously we were at the reunion specials right now. So last Sunday, I had a big argument with one of my castmates. And so I see a couple of the comments [on social media] that are like, “Kandi is not that hot… She wasn’t the only writer on that song.”

And I’m like, “So, what are you trying to say? Are you trying to say they just put my name on track? How do you think that works?” It’s kind of funny when I see stuff like that. Or even people going, “Oh, she can’t sing.” And I’m like, “Well, realistically I haven’t really been singing in years, so are you judging just because you don’t like me on Housewives?” When I hear those negative comments, it does kind of play in my mind sometimes, to where I can start second-guessing myself. Even though I know that I’ve done a lot of things, when you get so many people tearing down your accomplishments or putting you down, it can play on your brain.

Tell me about your Night Angel costume. I understand it had special meaning for you, like there was a specific reason why you picked it.

They had given me three different options in the beginning, and I picked one of those options. But I just knew I wanted something with hands. I want to be able to move around. And a couple of weeks later, they hit me back and said, “What do you think of this one?” And when I saw it, I was like, “This costume is perfect.” I always say my brother is my guardian angel. … My brother passed away [in a car accident] when I was 15 years old, and I promise you that I feel like there’s a guardian angel walking with me, guiding me here, guiding me there. He helps me. So in that aspect, the costume represents that. It just fell in my lap, really, because I guess somebody else probably was supposed to be the Night Angel before me, and it all worked out.

Were there any songs on The Masked Singer that you dedicated to your brother in your mind?

Actually, sentimental-wise, as far as songs that I performed, it was “Last Dance” by Donna Summer — because that was a song that as a kid, at my aunt’s house, was the first song I ever learned the lyrics to. I remember the aunt had this record player, and I used to play that all the time and I would take her hairbrush and pretend like I was singing. To do that song as an adult now and show people, it’s crazy to me.

Didn’t you and Donna Summer once work together?

Yes, I had an opportunity to collaborate with her. It was a really great experience, but it was also funny at the time. We were writing together — myself, her, and my friend Annie Roboff. And I remember there was something Donna wanted to put in the lyric and I was like, “Oh, no, I don’t think we should do this.” And I remember Annie saying, “Well, you know Donna, maybe we should just go with what Kandi said, because she’s new-school and we’re old-school.” And I remember Donna looked at me and was like, “OK then, ‘new-school’!” I was like “Please don’t be mad at me!” I mean, to work with somebody that you’ve seen as an icon your entire life, it’s just so hard to guide them if you don’t feel like they’re doing something right. Because those people, you put them on a pedestal. You know what I’m saying? It’s hard to say, “No, that’s not good. You shouldn’t do that,” because it’s like, “Who am I to tell you?”

Well, speaking of divas like that, how does it feel to realize you outlasted Chaka Khan and Dionne Warwick on The Masked Singer? That must blow your mind!

I was shocked. So check this out: They had broken everybody in three groups in the beginning — A, B, and C. I was in Group C. So they were in Group A and Group B, and I had to watch them perform before I went on the show. Their [brackets] had started airing right when I was about to start my performances. And when I was watching it, of course I recognized their voices, and I was like, “Oh my God, how am I supposed to compete against Chaka Khan? How is this going to work? This is not happening! You’re putting me on a show with Chaka Khan?” I couldn’t believe it. In my mind, I automatically was like, “Oh well, I might as well kiss this one goodbye.” She’s an icon. Her voice is amazing.

But then I got to the top nine performance where they have the top three from each group — and I didn’t see her there. I was just kind of like, “Whoa. Chaka’s not here.” That’s when I started thinking, “Wow. She’s somebody that I put on a pedestal, and to say that I’ve gotten this far and she’s not here… “ No dis to her; obviously I love her. But it just helped me feel like, “OK, maybe I am good enough to be in this competition. Maybe I could be strong in the show.”

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Do you think that being on The Masked Singer will help the public’s perception of you in that regard?

Even if we didn’t change that perception for everyone, I feel like the show changed it for me. Because at the end of the day, yeah, I know there are some people on the show who are not necessarily “real” singers. But there was some real singers on there. And there was real performances on that. I mean, much love to [runner-up] Jesse McCartney — he was a dope performer. Obviously Bow Wow [who came in third] is a killer performer. And of course, Chaka Khan. There was definitely some legit people on there who are strong performers and who sold hella records. I mean, Lil Wayne was on there!

At this point, I don’t really care what other people say. What I do know is it’s not meant for everybody in the world to like you. But there are a lot of people who watched and did get to appreciate my voice. There’s a lot of people who didn’t even know me. There’s a lot of people who never even listened to my music before, when I was in Xscape, who said, “This is my first time getting to know you, and I thought that you did a great job.” So that made me feel good, to be able to gain new fans from being on the show — and also open up my world to those people who maybe did listen to my songs a long time ago, who were just like, “Where have you been? Let me hear something new from you!” Those comments made me feel good.

Well, besides the Masked Singer exposure, you have probably gained a new audience from having your songs sampled or interpolated by other artists, like TLC’s “No Scrubs” on Ed Sheeran’s “Shape of You” or *NSYNC’s “Makes Me Ill” on Ariana Grande’s “Break Up With Your Girlfriend, I’m Bored.” Do you have any future writing, or samples of your older songs, coming up that you can discuss?

You know, it’s amazing that in these last two years, I’ve had so many people sample my songs. It’s crazy. I’ve been shocked at how many people have redone a lot of my songs recently, which I’m appreciative of — because basically it adds a whole new copyright for me, and obviously another check! [laughs] So for me as a writer, that is a best thing in the world. And yeah, there are some more songs [sampling Burruss’s work] that are coming out currently. To be honest with you, I can’t name them all off the top of my head, but there are a few that are ready to come out soon. I know we got one that sampled “Bills, Bills, Bills,” and it was dope.

That early-2000s sound you pioneered is coming back. You have to write some new hits for some new artists!

Oh, I had some sessions that were already set up for me to collaborate with some artists who are currently doing big things right now — but then this whole quarantine happened. So now I got to revamp how are we going to work it out. Are we going just online sessions or how are we going to figure it out? But it’s happening.

And in the meantime, you just dropped your own new single, “Used to Love Me” featuring Todrick Hall. Tell me about that.

I wanted a song that people could dance to, more upbeat, and something that could cross genres. Because that’s the thing — before coming onto The Masked Singer, I felt like I was stuck in a box. I was stuck in the R&B box, and people don’t want to hear you try different things. But on The Masked Singer, I sang every genre of music. And so that made me feel like, “You know what? I don’t have to be in a box when I put out the music.” Because I’ve just shown people that I can do any type of music that I want.

Third suspect arrested in US black jogger’s killing

Wanda Cooper-Jones (L), Ahmaud Arbery's mother, and his sister Jasmine Arbery (R) comfort one another at a rally after the first two suspects were arrested in the young man's fatal shooting in the state of Georgia -- a death that has sparked outrage
Wanda Cooper-Jones (L), Ahmaud Arbery’s mother, and his sister Jasmine Arbery (R) comfort one another at a rally after the first two suspects were arrested in the young man’s fatal shooting in the state of Georgia — a death that has sparked outrage (AFP Photo/Sean Rayford)

Washington (AFP) – Investigators in the southern US state of Georgia on Thursday arrested a man who filmed the fatal shooting of an unarmed black jogger, a case that has sparked nationwide outrage.

William Bryan Jr, 50, was charged with murder and attempted false imprisonment in connection with the February death of Ahmaud Arbery, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation said.

No further details were given, but a press conference was scheduled for Friday.

Arbery, 25, was killed on February 23 as he ran on a sunny day in a residential neighborhood in the town of Brunswick.

Two white men — retired police officer Gregory McMichael, 64, and his 34-year-old son Travis — were arrested two weeks ago over the shooting, more than two months after it happened.

Their arrest came two days after the release of the video shot by Bryan, which shows Arbery being gunned down.

His death sent shockwaves across the country, galvanizing activists who say the death highlights deeply rooted racism in parts of the United States.

President Donald Trump said he had seen the video and called it “very disturbing.”

The two first prosecutors in the case recused themselves, although it took several weeks for the second one to do so.

Gregory McMichael had long worked in the local district attorney’s office as an investigator.

The original police report stated that Gregory McMichael had claimed he thought Arbery was a burglar trying to escape the scene of a nearby break-in.

He said he and his son grabbed their guns and set off in pursuit, but that the confrontation went badly wrong.

The slain man’s family says he was simply out jogging and was the victim of a hate crime.

Georgia’s state attorney general has asked the US Justice Department to investigate the fatal shooting.

Man who filmed shooting of Ahmaud Arbery charged with murder

The Georgia Bureau of Investigation on Thursday said it arrested William “Roddie” Bryan Jr., 50, on charges of felony murder and criminal attempt to commit false imprisonment.

MORE: Investigators execute search warrants for home of Ahmaud Arbery’s alleged killers

Bryan took the viral cellphone footage depicting the chase and killing of Arbery, 25, on Feb. 23 in Glynn County.

On May 7, Gregory and Travis McMichael were arrested and charged with Arbery’s murder.

PHOTO: Ahmaud Arbery, 25, was killed while jogging on Feb. 23, 2020. (Courtesy The Arbery family)
PHOTO: Ahmaud Arbery, 25, was killed while jogging on Feb. 23, 2020. (Courtesy The Arbery family)

Bryan will be booked into the Glynn County Jail, GBI said. An initial police report noted Bryan tried unsuccessfully to block Arbery, who was jogging in the neighborhood when confronted.

The 28-second video showed Arbery jogging as Travis McMichael, 34, stood outside of a white pickup truck armed with a shotgun and Gregory McMichael, 64, a former police officer, stood in the truck’s open flatbed trunk holding a. 357 magnum.

The video shows Arbery and Travis McMichael tussling with the shotgun before three shots are fired. Arbery stumbled and fell to the ground, where he was pronounced dead.

PHOTO: William Bryan, who shot the video of Georgia man Ahmaud Arbery being shot and killed on Feb. 23, 2020, has now been arrested and charged with murder. (ABC News)
PHOTO: William Bryan, who shot the video of Georgia man Ahmaud Arbery being shot and killed on Feb. 23, 2020, has now been arrested and charged with murder. (ABC News)

MORE: Timeline: The events leading up to the arrest of 3 men for the murder of Ahmaud Arbery

The attorneys for Arbery’s mother and father said the family was “relieved” to learn of Bryan’s arrest.

“We called for his arrest from the very beginning of this process. His involvement in the murder of Mr. Arbery was obvious to us, to many around the country and after their thorough investigation, it was clear to the GBI as well,” the attorneys, S. Lee Merritt, Benjamin Crump and L. Chris Stewart, said in a statement.

PHOTO: Travis McMichael and his father, Gregory McMichael, right, are pictured in photos released on May 7, 2020. (Glynn County Sheriff's Office)
PHOTO: Travis McMichael and his father, Gregory McMichael, right, are pictured in photos released on May 7, 2020. (Glynn County Sheriff’s Office)

“The family of Mr. Arbery is thankful for the diligence of the GBI and the way in which they tirelessly pursued the evidence in this case,’ they added. “We want anyone who participated in the murder of Mr. Arbery to be held accountable.”

ABC News has reached out to Bryan’s attorney, Kevin Gough, for comment. He said in a press conference earlier this week that his client was receiving death threats due to the video and feared going to work.

“Without his video there would be no case,” Gough said Monday.

“Ya’ll have put a target on his back,” he added, referring to the media.

On Monday, Gough also said that Bryan was unarmed at the time of the shooting and “was not in communication with Gregory or Travis McMichael, or anyone else, during that timeframe.”

The Unwind: How we’re finding calm during quarantine, from virtual cocktail nights to genealogy

Flattening the curve by self-isolating at home is a small sacrifice during the coronavirus pandemic, but it’s not without its challenges. How does one ward off loneliness in the absence of community? What can we do to keep anxiety at bay during such an emotionally fraught time? How do we fill the hours stretching out before us, and use this time to make connections, pursue long-neglected hobbies and discover new ones, and inject a little positivity and calm into our everyday lives?

Introducing The Unwind, a new, recurring feature in which Yahoo staffers share the ways we’re finding moments of peace, levity and inspiration during these trying times. From adopting soothing strategies to boost our mental health, to losing ourselves to virtual social calls, newfound passions and other joyous diversions, these are the things getting us through the quarantine. The days may feel uncertain, but beauty and bright spots abound.

For more, check out the first edition of The Unwind.

Abby Haglage is using an app to identify plants. (Photo: Getty Images stock)
Abby Haglage is using an app to identify plants. (Photo: Getty Images stock)

Plant identification app

I’ll admit that if you’d told me three months ago I’d be deeply attached to a plant identification app, I would have laughed. But in the midst of an unprecedented global pandemic — where even the experts are confused — being able to take a long walk outside and get a concrete answer to the question “What is that plant?” is comforting beyond words. I use PictureThiswhich not only identifies the plant within seconds of you uploading a picture but provides a lot of other interesting factoids like the plant’s history and watering tips. It’s a yearly subscription, but there are plenty of plant ID apps to choose from — many of which are free! In summary: COVID-19 is still a mystery, but plants don’t have to be. – Abby Haglage, Yahoo Life senior editor

DanceBody classes

Before New York’s stay-at-home order took effect, I committed to taking DanceBody’sdance cardio classes after I found how much they significantly improved my mood. The instructors are incredible, the music is spot-on, the class is upbeat and the sweat is real. I sprung for a streaming membership in quarantine and haven’t looked back. I’ve learned TikTok dances (looking at you, “Toosie Slide”), and kept up with the heart-thumping choreography even when I wanted to take a water break. While I’m not dancing in studios, I’m still having a great time in my living room. – Alexis Shaw, Yahoo Life and Entertainment news editor

Cheering for first responders

I’ve had one social obligation in the last two months: nightly clapping (7 p.m. sharp) with my neighbors for first responders. We live outside NYC, where cheering is a ritual, but our neighbor here in the ‘burbs is a nurse at a city hospital. His wife got it going here — and you can hear cheering up and down the block. We use kiddie instruments to make noise, but neighbors bang pots, toot horns and ring bells. The nurse plays the didgeridoo while his son performs “Lean on Me” on the clarinet. There’s not a lot to love about this situation, but I love this. And when this is all finally over, we won’t miss the coronavirus, but we’ll definitely miss this. – Suzy Byrne, Yahoo Entertainment writer and editor

Virtual Shabbat services

Something that has surprised me in its ability to soothe has been joining weekly virtual Friday night Shabbat services. I was raised barely moderately religious, and am less so now, although I’ve always connected to Jewish rituals and music, and had a bat mitzvah at 13. Now, with my daughter, 11, heading towards her own such event, we joined a synagogue, Congregation Beit Simchat Torah (CBST). And while I had yet to attend a Friday night service in real life, I’ve joined the virtual ones weekly, on Facebook, since the start of quarantine. Between the cool rabbi’s words of pandemic wisdom and the comfortingly familiar music and prayers, it’s been my favorite way to quietly wind down the week and settle into the peace of the weekend. – Beth Greenfield, Yahoo Life senior editor

Driving along the Pacific Coast Highway

It’s week nine of quarantine, and I’m pretty sure my apartment walls are starting to close in on me like a garbage compactor on the Death Star. I’ve found the best way to combat claustrophobia is to go for a drive, and the Pacific Coast Highway is a great place to do that. Driving along the coast through Malibu is a breathtaking combination of lush green hills, waves crashing on rocky cliffs and houses I’ll never be able to afford. And if you pick the right hill to hike up, you can see it all from a big comfy couch. In case you were wondering, the soundtrack of today’s drive was Jurassic 5’s Power in Numbers and The Heavy’s Sons —two albums that definitely put me in a happy place. – Nick Paschal, Yahoo Entertainment senior producer

Movie club

Since my comedy troupe’s performance days are on pause right now, we’ve been using time when we would normally practice or have shows to stay in touch. Once a week we have a group FaceTime call and each week one person will pick a movie that the rest of the group has to watch. We try to pick a film most of the team hasn’t seen or someone’s all-time favorite. On the following virtual playdate, we discuss and dissect why — on earth — some people like the movies they do. When it came my time to pick, I was timid because I desperately wanted to pick Dirty Dancing but I didn’t want to make such a hodgepodge of people watch arguably the most romantic movie of all time. But when I found seven out of the eight people on my team hadn’t seen the classic, I made it my mission to make sure they knew no one puts Baby in a corner. – Allison McHugh, Yahoo Life and Entertainment social video producer

Zoom cocktail hours

My friends and I have made Zoom cocktail hours more exciting by challenging each other to create our own custom drinks. One website that’s helped me to do just that is MakeMeACocktail.com, which allows you to curate your own “bar” with any alcohol that you already own, as well as mixers, fruit, seasonings or other grocery store items that you have on hand. It’s a fun and easy way to think outside of the box when it comes to your boozy beverages! (I named my cocktail the COVID Crisp, made with tequila, hard apple cider, lime juice and grenadine.) – Kerry Justich, Yahoo Life news and features writer

Reading historical fiction

I’ve started reading for pleasure again, which is the first time in four years that I’ve put down my iPad and picked up a Kindle. I am a big fan of historical fiction; it makes me feel like I’m learning a topic that is somewhat worthwhile, even though it’s really a guise for a good drama or romance. I really enjoyed The Queen’s Fortune by Allison Pataki, which now forms the basis of my knowledge of Napoleon and early 19th-century European monarchs. Did you know that Napoleon’s ex-fiancée became the queen of Sweden? Time to get reading. – Maggie Andrews, Yahoo Life and Entertainment social media editor

Walks to a local cemetery

One of the few places you can find some solitude and greenery right now in New York City, where I live with my family, is a beautiful local cemetery that’s more like a park with gorgeous flowering trees and bushes, sloping hills, winding paths and sweeping views of lower Manhattan and the Statue of Liberty. My husband and I have been taking our 4- and 6-year-old sons for walks there before dinner. It’s a nice way to shake off the stress of the day, which can be overwhelming as we’re both working and simultaneously “homeschooling.” I miss long walks the most during this pandemic, so this is a nice way to get a few extra steps and fresh air. – Lindsay Powers, Yahoo consultant and author of You Can’t F*ck Up Your Kids 

Online dance classes

I’m what you call an enthusiastic dancer — not skilled or graceful, but happy to bust a move like I did to Debbie Gibson songs in my backyard or at school as a cheerleader when I was a kid. Working out? Not as much fun to me. So during quarantine, I’ve enjoyed doing some online dance classes. I’ve gone to a studio here in Los Angeles, but it’s not as freeing as dancing alone. At home, I set my laptop on the coffee table, send my husband out of the room and move to my heart’s content to Ciara’s “Level Up.” – Raechal Shewfelt, Yahoo Entertainment writer

Digging into family history 

After a decade of casual online research and being a self-proclaimed family historian, quarantine life has freed up the extra time for me to actually earn that title. Through Zoom interviews and phone calls with my parents, aunts and uncles, I’ve confirmed important facts on my family tree (I use Ancestry.com) and have made key discoveries to nudge me forward in my research. With everyone stuck at home, there are plenty of willing participants, and it’s been a fun way to connect. These chats always evolve into stories about my grandparents and great-grandparents — vital information I’d never find in an online database. – Julie Giusti, senior manager, Audience Development

Zoom pub quizzes

As a trivia junkie who spent most of my adult life living in London, pub quizzes rank high on my list of fun things to do. Luckily, my British friends feel the same way and have organized quizzes over Zoom — with participants from three different continents joining in — that have helped me feel a bit more like my pre-quarantine self again. It’s not a perfect system: My knowledge of cricket and the finer points of British politics is nil, and I had to confer with my teammates over text rather than talking it out in person over a round of pints in a low-lit, stale-smelling pub named the Fox & Hound. But there are extra points for wearing costumes and making cocktails — even if it’s before noon in your time zone. I’ll be planning an American, cricket-free edition soon. – Erin Donnelly, Yahoo Life news writer and editor

Cooking with Ina Garten

I did a meditation exercise recently and was asked to picture myself in 20 years. And there she was, Ina Garten, smiling at me. It makes sense that I saw her in my meditation. During the pandemic, I’ve turned to Ina. I lose myself in her recipes and am rewarded for it. Potatoes and fennel gratin … roasted chicken … fried chicken cutlets. Ina and I have spent many beautiful hours together, and somehow, she’s now a part of me. When I look back on these truly weird times — perhaps in 20 years —  I’ll think fondly of my quarantine friend, Ina. – Kristyn Martin, Yahoo News senior producer

DJing via live stream

Since the quarantine, I have been taking my normally pre-recorded podcast, 100% Ska, and instead playing records live in a video stream to connect with my listeners and friends. This also creates an alternative to the DJ sets I had previously been doing around New York City. I get fully dressed up — you have to give people something to look at! — and also allow listeners to submit requests during the shows. I hope to give my listeners a soundtrack to their evening cocktails, and maybe even help them discover a new band. – Ryan Miller, Yahoo News and Entertainment senior SEO strategist

The woman behind ‘Roe vs. Wade’ didn’t change her mind on abortion. She was paid

When Norma McCorvey, the anonymous plaintiff in the landmark Roe vs. Wade case, came out against abortion in 1995, it stunned the world and represented a huge symbolic victory for abortion opponents: “Jane Roe” had gone to the other side. For the remainder of her life, McCorvey worked to overturn the law that bore her name.

But it was all a lie, McCorvey says in a documentary filmed in the months before her death in 2017, claiming she only did it because she was paid by antiabortion groups including Operation Rescue.

“I was the big fish. I think it was a mutual thing. I took their money and they’d put me out in front of the cameras and tell me what to say. That’s what I’d say,” she says in “AKA Jane Roe,” which premieres Friday on FX. “It was all an act. I did it well too. I am a good actress.”

In what she describes as a “deathbed confession,” a visibly ailing McCorvey restates her support for reproductive rights in colorful terms: “If a young woman wants to have an abortion, that’s no skin off my ass. That’s why they call it choice.”

Arriving in an election year as the Supreme Court is considering a high-profile abortion casewith the potential to undermine Roe vs. Wade and several states across the country have imposed so-called “heartbeat laws” effectively banning the procedure, “AKA Jane Roe” is likely to provoke strong emotions on both sides of this perennial front in the culture wars.

Director Nick Sweeney says his goal was not necessarily to stir controversy, but to create a fully realized portrait of a flawed, fascinating woman who changed the course of American history but felt she was used as a pawn by both sides in the debate.

“The focus of the film is Norma. That’s what I really want people to take away from the film — who is this enigmatic person at the center of this very divisive issue,” he says. “With an issue like this there can be a temptation for different players to reduce ‘Jane Roe’ to en emblem or a trophy, and behind that is a real person with a real story. Norma was incredibly complex.”

Sweeney started making the film in April 2016, frequently visiting McCorvey in Katy, Texas. At first, he says, she was reticent, “but when she realized I was not involved in the abortion debate she was very happy to open up.” Over the course of the time they spent together, McCorvey recounted details of her difficult upbringing — marked by abuse, neglect and a stint in reform school — turbulent personal life, including a short-lived teenage marriage, and a decades-long relationship with girlfriend Connie Gonzalez.

“I thought she was extremely interesting and enigmatic. I liked that her life was full of these fascinating contradictions,” says Sweeney, who also interviewed figures on either side of the abortion issue who were close to McCorvey, including attorney Gloria Allred and Rob Schenck, an evangelical minister and former leader of Operation Rescue.

McCorvey comes across as funny, sharp and unfiltered, with a broad performative streak. She rattles off lines from “Macbeth” and jokes, “I’m a very glamorous person — I can’t help it, it’s a gift.”

The documentary includes scenes of McCorvey on election night 2016 — a few months before she died of heart failure at age 69 — expressing her support for Hillary Clinton. “I wish I knew how many abortions Donald Trump was responsible for,” McCorvey muses. “I’m sure he’s lost count, if he can count that high.”

“She had a kind of sly wit,” says Sweeney, recalling the many hours he spent with her in Katy, going on doughnut runs or sitting in a park, where she’d make him pick magnolia flowers.

But there is also great sadness, particularly surrounding her relationship with Gonzalez, which she renounced after her conversion in 1995.

The film explores one of the great ironies of McCorvey’s life story: Although she helped make abortion legal, McCorvey herself never had an abortion. She was pregnant with her third child when, in 1970, she signed an affidavit challenging laws in Texas which prohibited abortions except to save a mother’s life. As an impoverished, uneducated woman lacking the means to travel out of state or obtain an illegal procedure, she was an ideal plaintiff for the lawyers who tried the case, Sarah Weddington and Linda Coffee.

“I know how I felt when I found out that I was pregnant and I wasn’t going to let another woman feel that way — cheap, dirty and no good,” McCorvey says in the film. “Women make mistakes, and they make mistakes with men, and things happen. It’s just Mother Nature at work. You can’t stop it. You can’t explain it. It’s just something that happens.”

But it would take three years before the Supreme Court would render a verdict, by which time McCorvey had long since given birth to a girl who was placed for adoption. (Her second child had also been placed for adoption; her first child was raised by her mother.) McCorvey remembers learning of the decision in the newspaper and receiving a phone call from Weddington saying they’d won. “Why would I be excited? I had a baby, but I gave her away. It’s for all the women who come after me.”

“AKA Jane Roe” also shows how McCorvey was held at arm’s length by abortion rights proponents. After a decade of anonymity, McCorvey went public in the 1980s and began granting interviews, and was depicted in the Emmy-winning TV movie, “Roe vs. Wade,” starring Holly Hunter. But to the leaders of the abortion rights movement, the inconsistencies in her story — for a time McCorvey claimed she had gotten pregnant as the result of a rape, then said she had been lying — and lack of polish made her a less-than-ideal poster girl for the cause.

In 1995, she was working at a Dallas abortion clinic that was targeted for demonstrations by Operation Rescue, a militant organization known for extreme tactics such as blockading clinics (the group is now known as Operation Save America). She struck up an unlikely friendship with Flip Benham, an evangelical minister, who baptized her in a backyard pool, and for the next two decades of her life was a fixture at antiabortion protests and in documentaries. In 1998, she published a second memoir, “Won by Love,” detailing her change of heart on abortion. As Benham recalls with evident pride in “AKA Jane Roe,” McCorvey also took part in demonstrations where he burned the LGBT flag and the Quran.

Despite her visible role in the fight against abortion, McCorvey says she was a mercenary, not a true believer. And Schenck, who has also distanced himself from the antiabortion movement, at least partially corroborates the allegations, saying that she was paid out of concern “that she would go back to the other side,” he says in the film. “There were times I wondered: Is she playing us? And what I didn’t have the guts to say was, because I know damn well we were playing her.”

Schenck expresses regret at targeting McCorvey, someone whose vulnerabilities could be easily exploited, he says. “What we did with Norma was highly unethical. The jig is up.”

‘AKA Jane Roe’

Where: FX

When: 9 p.m. Friday

Rating: TV-MA (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 17)

Coronavirus blame game threatens to mar World Health Assembly

LONDON — The World Health Assembly is usually a sedate annual gathering of senior government health officials in Geneva attracting scant attention outside health care specialists.

Monday is set to bring a summit like none before.

Not only has the coronavirus killed at least 300,000 people globally and brought a wrenching economic recession, but it has also triggered a drastic escalation in tension between the world’s two largest economies, the United States and China.

Embroiled in the dispute is the World Health Organization, the U.N. agency for which the assembly in Geneva acts as a decision-making body.

“The principal spoiler at this event, I think, is going to be the United States,” said Mukesh Kapila, a former adviser to the WHO’s previous director-general. Kapila has also worked at a slew of other U.N. agencies and for the British government during his 30-year career.

“It may well use this forum to grandstand its attacks on China and, of course, the leadership of the WHO — in fact, I’m quite sure they will do so,” said Kapila, who is now a professor of global health and humanitarian affairs at the University of Manchester in England.

Full coverage of the coronavirus outbreak

That’s if the U.S. shows up at all.

President Donald Trump has already moved to withdraw U.S. funding from the WHO, which advises its 194 member countries but has no actual power to enforce health care policy. The president also declined to attend a recent European Union summit that raised $8 billion for a global fund for vaccines and treatments.

The WHO’s assemblies usually tackle a plethora of world health issues, but this time the decks have been cleared to focus on one: COVID-19.

The EU has drafted a resolution to boost international cooperation on vaccines, treatments, testing and medical supplies. Many observers expect another one calling for an investigation into the origins of the virus, which China is likely to oppose.

But given the political tension, the unprecedented global scrutiny and the fact that this year’s virtual format rules out any backroom diplomacy over coffee, there is no telling how the event will work in practice.

“We are really in uncharted territory,” said Charles Clift, who has worked as an adviser to the WHO and the British government and is now a senior consulting fellow at Chatham House, a London think tank. “We don’t know how the U.S. will behave and whether it will say inflammatory things now that the U.S. and China have entered into a sort-of cold war.”

There is plenty of blame to go around.

Many experts say Trump was far too slow to prepare the U.S. and risks further lives by pushing for the country to reopen too quickly.

The president has been Beijing’s chief accuser, but he is far from the only one to have alleged that Chinese officials covered up the virus during its early stages and exacerbated its spread into a pandemic.

China has vehemently denied the allegations. Its Foreign Ministry spokesman, Zhao Lijian, told reporters Thursday that “a lie repeated a thousand times is still a lie. We should stick to facts.”

The U.S. and China have also clashed over whether to allow Taiwan, which has been praises for its response, to take part in the assembly.

China, which considers Taiwan a breakaway province, has said it can participate only if it accepts that it is part of China, which Taiwan was always going to reject. The U.S. has backed including it, with the U.S. Embassy in Geneva alleging that Beijing would rather that Taiwan’s “success not be shared, no doubt to avoid uncomfortable comparisons.”

There has been recrimination, too, aimed at the WHO. While they may not use Trump’s harsh rhetoric, many expert observers say the agency was at least far too credulous in believing Beijing’s reassurances, which it then amplified uncritically to the wider world.

The most notorious example was a Jan. 14 tweet from the WHO that read, “Preliminary investigations conducted by the Chinese authorities have found no clear evidence of human-to-human transmission of the novel #coronavirus.”

Under particular scrutiny is the WHO’s director-general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

He heaped praise on Beijing’s coronavirus response even while there was evidence that Chinese authorities had underreported cases and tried to silence those sounding the alarm.

Tedros, 55, who like many Ethiopians goes by his first name, has been accused of kowtowing to undemocratic regimes before.

IMAGE: Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus (Fabrice Coffrini / AFP via Getty Images file)
IMAGE: Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus (Fabrice Coffrini / AFP via Getty Images file)

He is a former government minister in Ethiopia, which, despite recent reforms, is still classified as “authoritarian” by the Economist Intelligence Unit research group.

Shortly after he took the helm of the WHO, Tedros was criticized for appointing the then-president of Zimbabwe — Robert Mugabe, who often traveled abroad to receive health care — as a WHO “goodwill ambassador.”

Plenty of experts say the WHO has done an admirable job when facing an impossible task: corralling the world into a unified coronavirus response. But even those sympathetic to the organization say there have been missteps.

“Clearly, a charge has been made, and the charge has to be answered,” Kapila said of allegations that the WHO was complicit in a misinformation campaign by China. “I don’t know the answer unless we have an independent inquiry.”

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For Karol Sikora, an ex-WHO adviser who is dean of medicine at the University of Buckingham in England, the assembly must produce a resolution that gives “more direction from the WHO.”

“They’ve not been prescriptive in their advice. That’s what governments need,” said Sikora, who has accrued more than 200,000 Twitter followers as a prominent promoter of positive news related to the pandemic. “They need to have some clear answers on things like face masks, distancing, international travel and schools.”

Because the conference is a virtual one, “they are not going to be able to go out to the bars of Geneva at the end of it,” he said. “They are going to have to deal with the practicalities of how we can get back to a near-normal world in the future.”

Others are not optimistic. “All they can do is pass resolutions,” Clift said. “It has a rather indirect effect on what happens in the real world.”

Coronavirus: Why Africans should take part in vaccine trials

A generic photo of a masked nurse holding up a vaccine
A generic photo of a masked nurse holding up a vaccine

There have been numerous scare stories about trials for a coronavirus vaccine being carried out on people in Africa.

However, scientists say that it is vital that Africans take part in these trials, arguing it could jeopardise efforts to find a vaccine that works worldwide – and not just for richer nations.

In March, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, head of the World Health Organization (WHO), announced a global “solidarity trial” looking at finding promising treatments for Covid-19, the respiratory illness caused by coronavirus.

As there are no known cures yet, an effective vaccine would play a critical role in preventing and controlling the pandemic, the WHO says.

It would train people’s immune systems to fight the virus stopping them becoming sick.

How vaccines work:

  • They help develop immunity by imitating infections
  • This helps the body’s defences to recognise them and learn how to fight them
  • If the body is then ever exposed for real, it already knows what to do
  • A vaccine would normally take years, if not decades, to develop
  • A Covid-19 vaccine would allow lockdowns to be lifted more safely and for social distancing to be relaxed

Read: How close are we to finding a Covid-19 vaccine?

So far one vaccine trial has begun in South Africa – and one is one waiting approval in Kenya.

Yet the issue has been plagued by controversy.

And while vocal opposition to vaccinations of any kind is not new, the current debate in Africa centres on a race row.

‘Colonial mentality’

It was sparked by two French doctors discussing a trial in Europe and Australia looking into whether a tuberculosis vaccine would prove effective against coronavirus.

During the TV debate, they both agreed it should be tested in Africa too, one saying: “If I can be provocative, shouldn’t we be doing this study in Africa, where there are no masks, no treatments, no resuscitation?

The tone of the comments caused a backlash.

“It was a disgrace, appalling, to hear during the 21st Century, to hear from scientists that kind of remark,” said Dr Tedros, who is Ethiopian.

“We condemn this in the strongest terms possible, and we assure you that this will not happen. The hangover from a colonial mentality has to stop.”

"Do not take African people as human guinea pigs! It's absolutely disgusting"", Source: Didier Drogba, Source description: Ivorian ex-footballer, Image: Didier Drogba in 2018
“Do not take African people as human guinea pigs! It’s absolutely disgusting””, Source: Didier Drogba, Source description: Ivorian ex-footballer, Image: Didier Drogba in 2018

Unsurprisingly prominent African personalities added their voice to the outrage, including former footballers Didier Drogba and Samuel Eto’o – both of whom have been victims of racial abuse on and off the pitch during their careers in Europe.

“Do not take African people as human guinea pigs! It’s absolutely disgusting,” Drogba tweeted.

Such anger is well founded as it has been documented that racism and economic discrimination exist in healthcare.

There is evidence that pharmaceutical companies have carried out trials in parts of Africa, with little regard to ethics or even simple respect for human life.

Compensation pay-out

An infamous drug trial was carried out by Pfizer in Nigeria’s northern state of Kano in 1996.

Dozens of children were left disabled after Pfizer's drug trial in Kano
Dozens of children were left disabled after Pfizer’s drug trial in Kano

A long legal battle ensued leading to the pharmaceutical giant paying compensation to some parents whose children took part in the trial during a meningitis outbreak.

Eleven children died and dozens were left disabled after being given an experimental antibiotic.

It raised serious questions around consent and whether any had been obtained from the parents.

More than two decades on, scientists like Ugandan researcher Catherine Kyobutungi say things have changed and the process is more rigorous and transparent.

“There are safeguards at the individual level,” Dr Kyobutungi, head of the African Population and Research Center (APHRC), told the BBC.

"We have different circumstances, different genetic make-up that may affect how the vaccine works"", Source: Catherine Kyobutungi, Source description: Executive director APHRC , Image: Catherine Kyobutungi
“We have different circumstances, different genetic make-up that may affect how the vaccine works””, Source: Catherine Kyobutungi, Source description: Executive director APHRC , Image: Catherine Kyobutungi

“If you are a scientist involved in vaccine development, you don’t want your vaccine to be the one that a few years down the line, [is] killing people.

“So people have reputations at stake, people have invested a lot of their careers.”

She says there are now also safeguards at institutional and national levels – countries have regulatory bodies such as Uganda’s National Council of Science and Technology (UNCST).

“You can’t do vaccine trials without approvals to see that all the right safety procedures are being followed.”

You may also be interested in:

  • ‘I opposed vaccinations until my son caught polio’
  • Have African countries been able to ramp up testing?
  • South Africans start to doubt tough lockdown
  • Why lockdowns may not be the answer in Africa
  • Live tracker: Coronavirus in Africa

Richard Mihigo, who oversees immunisation and vaccine development for the WHO in Africa, agrees.

“Within the system there are safeguards and also incentives that make it unlikely that Africans will be exposed to unhealthy products.”

Those who conduct the research are not allowed to be involved in the marketing and production of any subsequent drug or vaccine, he explains.

‘Infodemic’

Such assurances are often deafened by a slew of fake news on social media with theories about a plot to carry out harmful vaccinations on black people with the aim of killing them.

For instance, a fake story about the death of seven children in Senegal after they were given a supposed Covid-19 vaccine caused uproar on Facebook.

It began circulating in early April around the same time as the French doctors’ controversial comments – which gave the fake story even more potency.

The WHO has termed the circulation of fake information an “infodemic”, deserving serious attention.

Decades of underfunding

But what has not had serious attention over the years is healthcare systems in Africa.

This is despite a pledge in 2001 by African heads of state to give at least 15% of their annual budget to improving their health sectors.

The Pasteur Institute in Senegal is doing research into coronavirus
The Pasteur Institute in Senegal is doing research into coronavirus

So far the target has only been reached in five of the continent’s 54 countries – which has repercussions for scientific research.

Africa has a wealth of expertise, but their scientists often go to work elsewhere because of this lack of investment – meaning that research into the African dynamics of health issues are often not addressed.

Those that stay find it difficult to organise partnerships, as sponsors opt for countries with a reliable healthcare infrastructure, meaning most trials are done in Egypt and South Africa.

Obama Criticizes Trump’s Coronavirus Response, Ahmaud Arbery Injustice in HBCU Grad Speech

Click here to read the full article.

Former President Barack Obama made a brief appearance during the “Show Me Your Walk HBCU Edition” virtual graduation ceremony, criticizing the country’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic and the death of Ahmaud Arbery.

Though Obama doesn’t mention President Trump by name, he alludes to him and the “folks in charge.”

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“More than anything, this pandemic has fully, finally torn back the curtain on the idea that so many of the folks in charge know what they’re doing. A lot of them aren’t even pretending to be in charge,” he said. “If the world is going to get better, it’s going to be up to you.”

The former president joined the commencement speech for students graduating from historically black colleges and universities near the end of the virtual ceremony. He also discussed how the black community is more severely impacted by coronavirus around the country.

“A disease like this just spotlights the underlying inequalities and extra burdens that black communities have historically had to deal with in this country. We see it in the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on our communities,” he said.

Obama then referenced the death of Ahmaud Arbery, a young black man who was killed while jogging on the street in Georgia. The two white men who attacked him were arrested last week after a video of his death went viral, though it occurred in late February.

“Just as we see it when a black man goes for a jog and some folks feel like they can stop and question and shoot him if he doesn’t submit to their questioning. Injustice like this isn’t new,” he said.

Despite the students’ canceled in-person graduation, they were told they can still change the world.

“No generation has been better positioned to be warriors for justice and remake the world,” he said. “Your participation in this democracy, your courage to stand up for what’s right, your willingness to forge coalitions, these actions will speak volumes. And if you’re inactive, that will also speak volumes.”

The commencement speech was hosted by Kevin Hart and featured appearances by Steve Harvey, Chris Paul, Debbie Allen, Vivica Fox, Anthony Hamilton, Wyclef Jean, Omari Hardwick and Doug E. Fresh.

Obama will help deliver another commencement speech later on Saturday at the Graduate Together: America Honors the High School Class of 2020 event hosted by the LeBron James Foundation, Entertain Industry Foundation and XQ Institute. The virtual ceremony will include appearances by Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James, Malala Yousafzai, the Jonas Brothers, Yara Shahidi, Pharrell Williams, Megan Papinoe, Lena Waithe, Bad Bunny, Ben Platt, H.E.R. and more.

Ahmaud Arbery’s Final Run in a Neighborhood Where 911 Calls Had Piled Up

Ahmaud Arbery. (Courtesy of the Arbery Family via The New York Times)
Ahmaud Arbery. (Courtesy of the Arbery Family via The New York Times)

BRUNSWICK, Ga. — For many residents of Satilla Shores, a subdivision in coastal Georgia, their waterfront neighborhood is paradise without pretension.

Several of the homes are low-slung ranches of 20th-century vintage, more cozy than fancy, and shaded by dramatic, moss-draped oaks. Some backyards are bordered by the Little Satilla River, a lazy on-ramp to a stunning jigsaw puzzle of waterways and wetlands stretching to the Atlantic Ocean.

But by mid-February, concerns about property crimes were mounting. Cars had been broken into. Guns had been stolen. One house under construction on Satilla Drive, the neighborhood’s main street, had been the subject of at least three emergency calls about potential trespassing.

On Feb. 23, there would be two more trespassing calls at the partially built house. The final call began with the sound of screams and shotgun blasts.

Ahmaud Arbery, 25, an avid jogger, was seen on camera going into the house that afternoon. No one knows why, but in one theory that emerged Friday, the property owner suggested that Arbery may have visited the house to get water before continuing to jog.

Minutes after his visit to the house Feb. 23, Arbery, who was black, was chased down by two armed white men, a father and son, and killed, a shooting that was captured in a graphic cellphone video. In a case that has drawn national attention and inspired protests, in part because of the racial dimension and because more than two months passed without arrests, the men have since been charged with murder.

On Saturday, former President Barack Obama made reference to the case while addressing graduates of historically black colleges. Speaking of “the underlying inequalities” that black communities face, he added, “we see it when a black man goes for a jog, and some folks feel like they can stop and question and shoot him if he doesn’t submit to their questioning.”

Also on Saturday, protesters gathered in Brunswick to call for the arrest of the man who took the cellphone video.

On Friday, Franklin Hogue, a lawyer for the father, Gregory McMichael, said that as more facts came to light, it would become clear that his client did not commit murder. “The truth will reveal that this is not just another act of violent racism,” he said.

But some things are clear. Arbery, who lived on the other side of a four-lane highway in a traditionally black community called Fancy Bluff, took his final run across a stretch of South Georgia terrain marked by historic — though increasingly blurred — racial boundary lines and onto a street where neighbors were vigilant and apparently on edge.

There are only five streets in Satilla Shores and only two ways in by car. Since 2012, Tony Shaw, who is black, has lived next to one of the entrances. He did not see Arbery jog past on that February afternoon, but he said he was not surprised that his white neighbors would eventually take note of Arbery’s presence.

“They’re not used to seeing a lot of black faces around here,” he said.

Shaw said that his was the second black family to move into Satilla Shores, about 35 years ago. An Air Force veteran, he had been stationed elsewhere at the time, but he moved into the house eight years ago. His white neighbors give friendly waves, he said, though he winces at the sight of a Confederate flag he said the man next door often displays on a backyard pole.

Francisco Duran, 28, rented a Satilla Shores ranch house a few months ago. He and his wife, who are raising two small children, like the relative quiet of the place. But Duran, a truck driver of Puerto Rican and Dominican descent, said the neighbors can be chilly.

When he waves from his yard, he said, “a lot of people don’t even wave back to us.”

For much of his life, Arbery lived with his mother in a small house with white siding and a cheerful blue door, about 2 miles from Satilla Shores. To get to Satilla Shores, Arbery had to cross U.S. Route 17, a four-lane highway that sends vacationers east toward the beach resorts and cream-colored sands of Jekyll Island.

For years, the highway served as a kind of man-made barrier between black and white worlds. But over the last couple of decades, some of those distinctions have begun to blur.

White people began moving to Fancy Bluff, a community of small homes, many of them newer and lining tidy, quiet streets.

Across the street from Arbery’s house, Jennifer Bolin, 53, emerged from her crowded garage on a sunny afternoon last week. A “Don’t Tread on Me” flag flew over the front lawn. Bolin, who is white, spoke of Arbery tenderly. She recalled his love of running, the way he did pullups on a tree limb in the yard, and the gentle way he played with his toddler nephews outside. And she spoke with pride of her neighborhood’s diversity.

Another neighbor, Kevin Flowers, 53, said that he had lived in Fancy Bluff for 13 years. Flowers, who is black, said he had never considered Satilla Shores, across the highway, to be intimidating or off-limits. In fact, he said, he had a cousin who lived in Satilla Shores for a while, and Flowers did not think twice when his son used to walk over and visit.

Satilla Shores is a mixed bag of blue- and white-collar retirees, young working-class families, lifelong residents and transplants from northern states. Some homes have weedy lawns and old vehicles and old boats in their yards. Some are pristine.

And like any neighborhood, Satilla Shores has had its share of vigilance, wariness and nuisance. Beginning in October, residents called 911 at least 86 times, reporting suspicious people, suspicious vehicles and numerous instances of possible trespassing, according to police records.

On New Year’s Day, one of the men who would later pursue Arbery called 911 to report a theft. The man, Travis McMichael, 34, told police that a Smith & Wesson 9-mm pistol had been stolen from his unlocked Ford pickup truck. He said that his father, Gregory McMichael, 64, had moved the truck that morning but had not locked it.

Another neighbor on the block, who declined to be identified because she did not want to be caught up in the controversy around Arbery’s killing, said in an interview in mid-April that family vehicles had been broken into three times beginning in late October.

But it was the unfinished property five doors down from McMichael’s house that was subject to recurring episodes of unauthorized entries — the last of which would occur moments before the McMichaels armed themselves and chased down Arbery.

The property at 220 Satilla Dr., with its riverfront backyard, is the dream project of a man named Larry English, who lives out of town and had been hoping to build what his lawyer, J. Elizabeth Graddy, has called “a peaceful refuge” on the water. English became seriously ill with a lung disease, and the treatment kept him away from the project beginning in late December.

In recent days, English’s lawyer has released videos that show people going into and through the house. Most of the videos appear to show what could be the same man — young, fit and African American — wandering around it.

Graddy said that nothing was ever taken from the property.

The first video was from Oct. 25, when English called 911 at 10:04 p.m. to report that a black man with tattoos had entered the property.

On Nov. 17, English’s security cameras captured a white man and white woman entering the house together. The next night, cameras captured a young black man again.

The following day, Graddy said, English met a next-door neighbor named Diego Perez, who eventually texted English about the episodes and offered his help. “Goodness,” Perez wrote. “If you catch someone on your cameras, let me know right away, I can respond in mere seconds.”

The same young black man reappeared on a video on Dec. 17. And again on Feb. 11.

On that night, records show that Travis McMichael called 911 at 7:27 p.m. to report that a man was trespassing at English’s house. McMichael, who said he had not seen the man before, told police he had “just chased him” and said he was in his truck waiting for officers to come to the scene.

Twelve days later, a man would call 911 to report a “black male running down the street.” Sounding slightly breathless, he appeared to shout “Stop!” and “Travis!” before going silent for the rest of the four-minute call. Gunshots could be heard in the background.

On Friday, after a number of the videos were published by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the lawyers representing Arbery’s family said that they could only confirm that Arbery was the man who appeared in one of the videos — the one taken on the day he was killed.

“There were frequently people on the construction site both day and night,” they said in a statement Friday. “Ahmaud Arbery seems to be the only one who was presumed to be a criminal and ultimately the only one murdered based on that assumption.”

After poring over the videos, English’s lawyer on Friday proposed the theory that the young man who returned over and over to the house had done so to drink water.

“There is a water source at the dock behind the house as well as a source near the front of the structure,” Graddy wrote. “Although these water sources do not appear within any of the cameras’ frames, the young man moves to and from their locations.”

In one angle, from Dec. 17, the man “appears to wipe his mouth and/or neck,” the statement continued, and “what sounds like water can be heard. He walks out of the house, eases into a jog and disappears from view.”

Graddy also released a Dec. 20 text message to her client that she said was from an officer in the Glynn County Police Department. The officer suggested that English call Gregory McMichael the next time his security cameras recorded an intruder.

This past week in Satilla Shores, there was a lingering sadness over Arbery’s death, a weariness toward the demonstrators who have marched and run through, and a bitterness toward a national press corps that had descended on a little neighborhood that had rarely made the news.

A number of residents declined to give their names or talk. The properties around English’s house were festooned with “No Trespassing” signs.

One house across the street had a sign in the yard that read, “We Run with Maud,” a popular slogan of solidarity for Arbery.

English, through his lawyer, has said he is having second thoughts about moving to the neighborhood. He said he had received death threats and would not feel safe.

For weeks, Wanda Cooper-Jones, Arbery’s mother, has said she could barely stand to go into the small house she shared with her son across the highway.

This past week, there was a “For Sale” sign out front.

Hundreds demand justice for Arbery at Georgia rally

BRUNSWICK, Ga. (AP) — Justice for Ahmaud Arbery, a black man killed during a pursuit by a white man and his son in Georgia, isn’t just prison time for his killers — it’s changes in a local justice system that never charged them with a crime, rallygoers said Saturday.

Hundreds of people came to the Glynn County courthouse demanding accountability for a case in which charges weren’t filed until state officials stepped in after a leaked video sparked national outrage.

Arbery, 25, was killed Feb. 23 just outside the port city of Brunswick. Gregory McMichael, 64, told police he and his son, Travis McMichael, 34, pursued Arbery because they believed he was responsible for recent break-ins in the neighborhood.

The McMichaels weren’t arrested and charged with murder until May 7, after a video of the shooting was publicly released to a local radio station and less than 48 hours after state agents took over the case.

“Justice for Ahmaud is more than just the arrests of his killers,” said John Perry, president of the Brunswick NAACP chapter at the Saturday rally. “Justice is saying that we’ve got to clean up the house of Glynn County.”

Speakers at the rally demanded the resignation of Jackie Johnson, the district attorney for the Brunswick Judicial Circuit who recused herself from the investigation, and George Barnhill, the Waycross circuit district attorney who took over the case and declined to press charges. Gregory McMichael was an investigator in Johnson’s office before retiring last May. Both Johnson and Barnhill have denied wrongdoing.

Organizers of the rally said around 250 vehicles drove more than four hours from Atlanta for the rally, bringing historically black fraternities and sororities, civil rights organizations and black-led gun rights groups, who said if Arbery had armed himself, he might be alive today.

Attorney Mawuli Davis came from his suburban Atlanta home because he wanted to make it clear how many people are not satisfied with how the Arbery case has been handled.

“Georgians are just not safe when you allow an injustice like this to take place,” said Davis, who is an organizer with the Black Man Lab in Decatur, Georgia.

The case has brought reminders of several other black people killed in confrontations with white police officers or others and the names of Trayvon Martin, Sandra Bland and others were mentioned during the rally.

“We’re going to keep on marching. We’re going to stand in solidarity. We’re going to keep on protesting. We’re going to keep on raising our voices because Ahmaud Arbery will get justice,” said Triana Arnold James, president of the Georgia chapter of the National Organization for Women.

Organizers asked the crowd to wear masks and stay a safe distance apart because of COVID-19. There were plenty of masks — some with Arbery’s picture — but many in the crowd were shoulder to shoulder for the rally and marched with arms locked after it was over.

Arbery’s attorneys have said he’s the person recorded inside a house under construction right before he was killed. Gregory McMichael told police he suspected Arbery was responsible for recent break-ins and he also said Arbery attacked his son before he was shot.

Arbery’s mother has said she believes her son was merely out jogging. The video of the confrontation shows the McMichaels’ truck in front of Arbery as he runs toward it.

The attorney of the owner of the house under construction said she thinks Arbery was getting water. A man in similar clothes appeared in videos from the home at least twice, lawyer J. Elizabeth Graddy said.

The homeowner, Larry English, lives hours away and set up motion-activated security cameras that send him a text when they start filming.

English called the Glynn County Police after one notification Dec. 17. No one was arrested, but a detective sent English a text message three days later giving him Gregory McMichael’s phone number and identifying him as a retired law enforcement officer, adding “he said please call him day or night when you get action on your camera,” according to the Dec. 20 text shared by Graddy.

English never read the text until Graddy’s firm started reviewing his phone days ago.

“He never called Gregory McMichael. He never took him up on that offer,” Graddy said.

The text message was first reported by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Arbery’s family ended Saturday’s rally thanking the crowd for their support and saying “we are all running for Ahmaud.”

The crowd then marched away from the courthouse, taking a knee in silence and blocking traffic for more than 60 seconds to symbolize the days it took for arrests in the case.

Then they chanted: “When black lives are under attack, what do we do? Stand up, fight back.”