America’s reaction to the guilty verdict in the Ahmaud Arbery murder case

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America’s reaction to the guilty verdict in the Ahmaud Arbery murder case

From the moment the first guilty verdict was delivered inside a Georgia courtroom, tears and slogans swept across the country. Black parents called their children crying. The activists succumbed to what was called a rare example of justice.

In a country whose divisions over race, guns, and vigilante violence have recently been on display in courtrooms from Kenosha, Wis., Charlottesville, Va., to Brunswick, Ga., Wednesday’s guilty verdicts against three white men, Ahmaud Arbery, who pursued and killed, was welcomed by political leaders and many Americans across the political spectrum.

Georgia Governor Brian Kemp said he hoped the decisions would help the country move “on the path of healing and reconciliation.” President Biden said the verdict showed “the justice system is doing its job,” but added that Mr Arbery’s murder and the chilling videotapes that recorded it were a measure of the country’s persistent racial inequalities.

The widespread exclamation of support for the jury’s decision, which some activists called lynchings of the 21st century, was in stark contrast to the deeply polarized response to the acquittal of Kyle Rittenhouse, an 18-year-old white who fatally shot two men during the unrest. was given. After a police shooting of a black man last year in Kenosha.

Many conservatives hailed Mr Rittenhouse’s acquittal last week as a victory for self-defense and gun rights, while liberals worried it would encourage armed vigil as a response to racial justice protests.

“The Kyle Rittenhouse verdict is the America I hope for — the Arbery verdict is the America I fight for,” said Rev. Lenny Duncan, 43, a black pastor in Portland, Ore. After the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and other black Americans last year.

Conviction of all three defendants charged in the February 2020 murder of Mr. Arbery – Travis McMichael, 35; his father, Gregory McMichael, 65; and their neighbor, William Bryan, 52 – reprimanded or protested.

Travis McMichael’s lawyers told reporters they respected the jury’s decision but were planning to appeal the verdict, which they described as “disappointing and sad”.

“It’s a very rough day for Travis McMichael and Greg McMichael,” said Jason Sheffield, one of the lawyers, adding that both “honestly believe that what they were doing was the right thing to do.”

The men also face federal hate crimes charges and are expected to stand trial in February.

The verdict came as a relief to some black Americans who viewed the trial with sadness and fear. Many expected an immediate guilty verdict, but were concerned that an overwhelming white jury would be accompanied by defense attorneys, who portrayed the three white defendants as neighbors, when they searched for Mr. Arbery for crimes in their neighborhood. when he followed Mr. Arbery. ran into the street.

“Thank God for this decision today,” said Warren Stewart Jr., a black pastor and political activist in Phoenix. “I started calling some friends and they’re crying on the phone. It’s bitter. Having two black sons, it’s scary. This is real life for us.”

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Mr Stewart’s 18-year-old son, Micaiah, was receiving a lot of attention at the trial, and the family tried to balance their hopes and prayers for a guilty verdict against a long history of high-profile murders of black men and women. declared justified by the legal system.

“It happens so often, that they get away with it,” said Mikaya Stewart. He said Mr Arbery’s murder on a public street appeared to confirm his own fear of being out in the United States as a young black man.

Some black Americans said the trial presented a make-or-break test for their faltering trust in the legal system. He said the video showed an unarmed black man being chased, cornered and shot, leaving little room for suspicion in his mind that Mr Arbery’s death was homicide.

“We look forward to the day when it’s not a question of whether someone has been killed by a racist, it’s murder,” said Hawk Newsom, co-founder of Black Lives Matter Greater New York. victory.”

Mr Newsom said the conviction in Mr Arbery’s murder added to a “mixed message” against Mr Rittenhouse’s acquittal against the shooting of three white men protesting the police shooting of a black man.

“You can’t outright stalk and murder black people and those who support them,” he said. “But if you make it look like self-defense, you’ve got a shot.”

In Atlanta, Chris Stewart, an attorney who has represented many families of black people killed by white police officers, shed tears as he reflected on the verdict in Georgia.

“It is good to see racism defeated,” said Mr Stewart, whose clients include the family of Walter Scott, a 50-year-old black man who was shot in the back by a South Carolina police officer in 2015. “This case will be remembered for many years. You can’t tell how big it is.”

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Mr. Stewart said that if the verdict had gone the other way, “it would have broken me – I would have lost faith in the system.” He said the jury’s decision “shows African Americans that justice is possible.”

But only occasionally, said many. The three defendants were not arrested until several weeks after the shooting, and only once did a video of Mr Arbery’s final moments generate nationwide outrage and anger.

“He had no choice but to convict him,” said 68-year-old Wilbert Dawson, as he and a friend sat at Dugan’s Restaurant and Bar in Atlanta’s Old Fourth Ward, contemplating the verdict.

“But nothing like this happens without the video,” said his friend, Curtis Duren, 64-year-old. If the men had been acquitted, “there would have been such a rebellion,” said Mr. Duren. “It would have destroyed the moral fabric of America.”

In Brunswick, local officials and activists launched a massive verdict. Alan Booker, a city commissioner who represents Brunswick’s most black residents, said he was overjoyed for Mr Arbery’s family, while acknowledging that nothing can bring Arbery back.

Bobby Henderson, co-founder of A Better Glin, a local organization created after Mr. Arbery’s death to bring more diversity to local leadership, said he was satisfied that Mr. Arbery’s family received accountability, but that he was working on more work. was needed “to counter the system that failed Ahmed that day.”

The Brunswick courthouse, where the trial began, became the scene of tearful festivities.

Outside, where activists and Mr Arbery’s supporters hugged and cried and held each other’s hands in a sign of victory, John Howard, 60, a white man from Hazlehurst, Ga., said justice had been served.

He called the murder “lynching”. Mr Howard said it seemed that the breed relations were better when they were younger. He grew up in the countryside and called his black elders “uncle” and “aunt”. He said, the division has deepened now, but it seemed that people are coming together to protest injustice. “Black and white citizens are getting fed up with this,” he said. “enough is enough.”

Mr Arbery’s aunt Thewanza Brooks said “thank God” as the judge read each guilty verdict. Another aunt of Mr. Arbery, Diane Arbery Jackson, simply said, “It’s amazing.”

They were both shedding tears. It was an emotional day, with family members crying as the video of Mr Arbery’s murder was replayed for the jury in the morning. Several times during the deliberations, people gathered in the overflow room prayed together for a guilty verdict.

As the judge read out the verdict, the people in the room raised their fists. Mr Arbery’s childhood best friend, Akim Baker, was silent as he read out the verdict. His head was bowed and his eyes turned red from crying. “I feel better,” he said.

Reporting was contributed by Rick Rosa, Sergio Olmos, Nate Schweber, Robert Chiarito, Ana Fascio-Kreuzer and Christian Boon.

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