More than 60 current and former NFL players and coaches signed their names to a letter last week asking Attorney General William Barr to use the full force of federal law to investigate the fatal shooting of Ahmaud Arbery, a black man who was followed and fatally shot by white men in his Georgia community in February.
That letter from the Players Coalition, a social justice group formed in 2017 in the wake of player protests during the national anthem, said the Justice Department and the FBI are needed to ensure that Arbery's case wasn't mishandled by local authorities and that the men charged with murder are held accountable.
NFL star Malcolm Jenkins, who co-founded the coalition with retired wide receiver Anquan Boldin, told NBC News that the request for federal intervention also carries a greater purpose.
"The sad truth is that Ahmaud's case isn't unique at all," Jenkins said. "He is a representation of the ongoing level of distrust that a large part of our communities have in law enforcement and elected officials and the importance of placing reform like-minded people in office who will uphold the highest standards of the law for everyone, regardless of color."
"It also reinforces that we need hate crime laws in Georgia as well as Arkansas, South Carolina and Wyoming," Jenkins said of the four states without such legislation. "These 'loopholes' to justify these kinds of acts will continue to hold us back from justice for everyone."
Among those who support the Players Coalition's letter are former player Troy Vincent, the NFL's executive vice president, Miami Dolphins linebacker Kyle Van Noy, New England Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman and former Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, now of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
On Friday, Jenkins joined people across the country who jogged for 2.23 miles to remember Arbery.
"Rest in peace, king," Jenkins — a veteran safety who won two Super Bowls, one with the New Orleans Saints and the other with the Philadelphia Eagles, who re-signed with the Saints earlier this year — said in an online video. "Doing my jog for you."
On Monday, the Justice Department said it is weighing the possibility of federal hate crime charges, giving Jenkins hope.
"The FBI and DOJ have an army of resources, and their goal never changes: to protect the vulnerable and intervene where powerful people have caused grave harm," he said. "They obtained a guilty verdict in the Rodney King case. They held the perpetrators of the Danziger Bridge shootings accountable. They have prosecuted guards at Parchman prisons. And they have led investigations all over the country that have proved critical in restoring trust between law enforcement and people of color."
Arbrey's death has resonated with Jenkins and others who say they see themselves in his shoes. He said that as a black man — regardless of his status as a pro athlete — he understands the burden of being scrutinized and the implicit bias of others when he's out in public.
"Everyday. Walking the dog, taking out the trash, just walking through my own neighborhood, you always must be conscious of what you look like," he said. "People should not have to worry about the color of their skin or gender to go out for a run in their own neighborhood."
According to his family, Arbery, 25, was out for a jog on Feb. 23, the day he was killed, an activity the former high school football player pursued regularly. White men in a pickup truck with guns chased him in their neighborhood in Brunswick, Georgia, a small working-class port city, and told police that they suspected him of having burglarized a nearby home.
The Georgia Bureau of Investigation arrested Gregory McMichael, 64, and his son, Travis McMichael, 34, on charges of felony murder and aggravated assault. The men have been jailed since Thursday, and it was unclear whether they have a lawyer.
The lag in an arrest — which came more than two months after the incident and followed the leak of a video of the shooting — frustrated many community members who believe the McMichaels' ties with local authorities and racial bias played a role.
Gregory McMichael, who was a Glynn County police officer in the 1980s, worked as an investigator in the prosecutor's office in Brunswick until he retired in May 2019. The prosecutor, Jackie Johnson, recused herself in the case, and then a replacement prosecutor, George Barnhill of the Waycross Judicial Circuit, also stepped aside after Arbery's family learned that Barnhill's son had worked alongside Gregory McMichael in Johnson's office.
The case was transferred to yet another outside prosecutor. Meanwhile, Barnhill wrote a letter in April detailing why he didn't believe the McMichaels should have been arrested and saying they, along with a third man who recorded the video, had "solid first hand probable cause" to pursue Arbery, a "burglary suspect," and stop him under Georgia's citizen's arrest law.
State Attorney General Chris Carr, who this week asked the Justice Department to help investigate the case, told NBC News on Monday that part of an investigation needs to determine why the previous district attorneys never told his office that they had conflicts that should have precluded their involvement in the first place. Carr has since appointed a new outside prosecutor — the fourth.
The earliest a grand jury is expected to be convened is mid-June, when juries in Georgia may resume activity following coronavirus-related restrictions.
Meanwhile, newly public surveillance videos being reviewed by investigators appear to show Arbery entering a construction site of an unoccupied home on the McMichaels' block just before he was chased and killed. Attorneys for his family say the videos show only that he was "trespassing at most" and not engaging in other criminal activity.
Jenkins said the video apparently showing Arbery locked in a physical struggle with Travis McMichael was hard to watch.
"Any human being who has seen the video should connect to Ahmaud," he said. "That said, it is an extremely hard pill to swallow as a black person to watch yet another black body be shot down in the middle of the street. But the most infuriating thing is, as you mourn the loss of a life, is to have their murder justified by white fear and self-defense."
An autopsy report released Monday said Arbery died from two shotgun blasts to the chest and suffered a shotgun graze to his right wrist.
Jenkins said Arbery's death should be another call to action for people to re-examine the need for citizen's arrest laws and to hold elected officials and district attorneys accountable for their decisions.
Jenkins, a three-time Pro Bowl safety, has become one of the NFL's most outspoken players on issues of racial justice. He began using his platform when he formed The Malcolm Jenkins Foundation, a nonprofit charity he started with his mother during his first stint on the Saints' roster a decade ago. His latest project with his production company, Listen Up Media, includes a documentary called "Black Boys," about the black male identity in America.
As for whether this case would lead to renewed player protests should the NFL kick off a new season later this year, Jenkins said it would be a "disservice" to narrow any activity for a single cause because the larger struggle reaches back far longer.
"The anger and frustration being expressed by professional athletes and people of color all over the country stems from a centuries-long thread of violence against the black body that goes without consequence or justice," he said. "This has been going on since emancipation."