Brunswick verdict elicits surprise, joy but also lingering concerns about racial justice
The Rev. Al Sharpton, third from the left, holds hands with Ahmaud Arbery‚Äôs parents, Wanda Cooper-Jones, right, and Marcus Arbery, left, as they react outside the Glynn County Courthouse in Brunswick, Ga., on Wednesday, Nov. 24, 2021, after the jury found three men guilty of murder and other charges for the pursuit and fatal shooting of Ahmaud Arbery. (Nicole Craine/The New York Times)
05/11/2021 — Atlanta, Georgia — Activist and organizer Hannah Joy Gebresilassie poses for a portrait outside of the Georgia State Capitol building in Atlanta, Tuesday, May 11, 2021. Gebresilassie is the founder of the Promote Positivity Movement and executive director and cofounder of Protect the Vote GA. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)
On Wednesday, in what might have been one of the most polarizing cases in Georgia in decades, a jury of 11 whites and one Black man, convicted Travis McMichael of malice murder for the shooting death of Arbery in February 2020. McMichael was also convicted of felony murder, along with his father Gregory McMichael and William “Roddie” Bryant.
Across Georgia, news of the verdict hit quick, as religious, political and civil rights leaders weighed in on what some of them called surprising while others saw the jury’s decision as a sign of progress and change.
“The pain and loss resulting from Ahmaud Arbery’s murder can never be rectified, but this is a significant moment of accountability and justice,” said Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of the Anti-Defamation League. “The men who murdered Mr. Arbery were tried and found guilty of the crime, sending a resounding message across Georgia and the United States that racial violence — especially that committed under the false guise of vigilantism — is unacceptable. Mr. Arbery did not die in vain.”
The 25-year-old Arbery’s death fueled numerous protests in Brunswick and elsewhere and became international news. NBA star LeBron James and filmmaker Ava DuVernay expressed outrage about the case. When lawyers for the Arbery family had to make a probable cause hearing, rapper and businessman Jay-Z chartered a jet to get them to Georgia.
Ahmaud Arbery is shown in an undated family photo.
Following last week’s acquittal of Kyle Rittenhouse in a similarly polarizing case in Wisconsin, this case was followed closely. After the verdict, President Biden, Vice President Harris and a host of others, including Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms chimed in with opinions.
“Georgia is better off than Wisconsin. And this was so flagrant,” said former Atlanta Mayor and civil rights icon Andrew Young, who said he was not surprised by the guilty verdict. “Georgia was particularly concerned about this case. There has to be some respect for justice. And if you can do a killing on television and get away with it, it threatens the very stability of our country.”
Sen. Raphael Warnock, the senior pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church said while the verdict upheld a sense of accountability, true justice was still not served.
“True justice looks like a young Black man not having to worry about being harmed—or killed—while on a jog, while sleeping in his bed, while living what should be a very long life,” Warnock said. “Ahmaud should be with us today. I am grateful to the jury for their service and for a verdict that says Ahmaud Arbery’s life mattered.”
Josh Clemons, co-director of Atlanta’s OneRace Movement, a faith-based reconciliation initiative, echoed the feeling of many people around the nation.
Ahmaud Arbery’s mother, Wanda Cooper-Jones his hugged by a supporter after the jury convicted Travis McMichael in the trial of McMichael, his father, Greg McMichael, and neighbor, William “Roddie” Bryan, Wednesday, Nov. 24, 2021, in the Glynn County Courthouse in Brunswick, Ga. The three defendants were found guilty Wednesday in the death of Ahmaud Arbery. (AP Photo/Stephen B. Morton, Pool)
Surprise that three white men would be found guilty of murdering a Black man in the South. ”To be honest, I’ve been bracing for them to clear them of all charges,” said Clemons, citing last week’s acquittal of Rittenhouse in the killing of two men and the wounding of a third last year during tumultuous protests in Kenosha, Wisconsin.
Clemons said the Arbery case was a heavy weight on his shoulders that people would even have to question whether or not a jury would vote to convict three men who chased down and shot to death an unarmed Black man running through a neighborhood with no proof he did anything wrong.
“We rejoice in the fact that justice has been served and that the Arbery family is getting the justice they deserve, but their son should still be with us today,” Clemons said.
Andrea Young, executive director of the ACLU of Georgia, noted that the case led to the repeal of Georgia’s Citizen’s Arrest law.
“With their verdict, the jury rejected the vestige of Jim Crow and the assertion of white supremacy that was at the center of this case,” she said. “This is a vitally important step, brought about because of the determination of Ahmaud Arbery’s family and his community and the public protests.”
Andrea Young, Executive Director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia.