U.S. Reacts to Guilty Verdict in Ahmaud Arbery Murder Case

From the moment the first guilty verdict was pronounced in a Georgia court, a cascade of tears and shouts of vindication ran across the country. Black parents called their children, crying. The activists drowned, embracing what they called a rare instance of justice.

In a country whose cavernous racial divisions, guns and vigilante violence have recently been on display in courtrooms from Kenosha, Wis., To Charlottesville, Virginia, to Brunswick, Georgia, Wednesday’s guilty verdicts against three white men who persecuted and assassinated Ahmaud Arbery were hailed by political leaders and many Americans from across the political spectrum.

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

Widespread exclamations in support of the jury’s verdict on what some activists called a 21st century lynching contrasted with the deeply polarized response to the acquittal of Kyle Rittenhouse, the 18-year-old white man who shot and killed two people during the riots. in Kenosha after the police shooting of a black man last year.

Many conservatives accepted Rittenhouse’s acquittal last week as a victory for self-defense and gun rights, while liberals worried it would encourage armed vigilantism in 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 the Rev. Lenny Duncan, 43, a black pastor from Portland, Oregon, who attended many of the demonstrations that shook the city. last year after the murder of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and other African Americans.

The conviction of the three defendants in the Arbery murder in February 2020: Travis McMichael, 35; his father, Gregory McMichael, 65; and his neighbor William Bryan, 52, drew few reprimands or protests.

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

“This is a very difficult day for Travis McMichael and Greg McMichael,” said Jason Sheffield, one of the attorneys, adding that they both “honestly believed that what they were doing was the right thing to do.”

The men also face federal hate crime charges and are expected to be tried in February.

The verdict was a relief to some African Americans who had witnessed the trial with sadness and fear. Many were urgently waiting for a guilty verdict, but worried that the mostly white jury would side with defense attorneys who portrayed the three white defendants as neighbors concerned about a series of crimes in their neighborhood when they went in hot pursuit. of Mr. Arbery while he. ran on the street.

“Thank God for this verdict today,” said Warren Stewart Jr., a black clergyman and political activist in Phoenix. “I started calling some friends and they are crying on the phone. It is bittersweet. Having two black kids, this is scary. This is real life for us. “

Mr. Stewart’s 18-year-old son, Micaiah, had been paying close attention to the trial, and the family tried to balance their hopes and prayers for a guilty verdict against a long history of high-profile killings of black men and women who have been declared justified by the legal system.

“It happens too often that they get away with it,” said Micaiah Stewart. He said Arbery’s murder on a public street seemed to confirm his own fears of simply dating as a young black man in America.

Some African Americans said the trial had posed a litmus test for their eroded confidence in the legal system. They said the video showing how an unarmed black man had been hunted down, cornered and shot had left little doubt in their minds that Arbery’s death was murder.

“We look forward to the day when it is not a matter that when a person is lynched by a racist it is murder,” said Hawk Newsome, co-founder of Black Lives Matter Greater New York, who called the guilty verdicts “biased.” . victory.”

Newsome said the convictions for Arbery’s murder juxtaposed with Rittenhouse’s acquittal in the shooting of three white men protesting the police shooting of a black man added to a “mixed message.”

“You cannot directly hunt down and murder blacks and their supporters,” he said. “But if you make it look like self-defense, you have a chance.”

In Atlanta, Chris Stewart, a lawyer who has represented several families of blacks killed by white police officers, struggled to hold back tears as he reflected on the verdict in Georgia.

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

Mr. Stewart said that if the verdict had been reversed, “I would have broken, I would have lost faith in the system.” He said the jury’s decision “shows African Americans that justice is possible.”

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

“They had no choice but to convict them,” said Wilburt Dawson, 68, as he and a friend sat at Dugan’s restaurant and bar in Atlanta’s Old Fourth Ward, reflecting on the verdict.

“But without the video none of this happens,” said his friend, Curtis Duren, 64. If the men had been acquitted, “there would have been such an uprising,” Duren said. “It would have destroyed the moral fabric of the United States.”

In Brunswick, local officials and activists largely announced the verdict. Allen Booker, a city commissioner who represents the majority of Brunswick’s black residents, said he was delighted by the Arbery family and acknowledged that nothing could bring Arbery back.

Bobby Henderson, co-founder of A Better Glynn, a local organization created in the wake of Mr. Arbery’s death to drive greater diversity in local leadership, said he was pleased that Mr. Arbery’s family got the responsibility, but that more work was needed. he needed to “fight the system that failed Ahmaud that day.”

The Brunswick courthouse where the trial took place became a scene of tearful celebration.

Outside, where activists and Arbery supporters hugged, cried and held hands in victory, John Howard, 60, a white man from Hazlehurst, Georgia, said justice had been served.

He called the massacre “a lynching.” Howard said race relations seemed to be better when he was young. He grew up in the country and called his older blacks “uncle” and “aunt.” The division is now deeper, he said, but it seemed that people were coming together to protest injustice. “Black and white citizens are getting sick of it,” he said. “Enough is enough.”

Theawanza Brooks, Mr. Arbery’s aunt, said “Thank goodness” as the judge read each guilty verdict. Another of Mr. Arbery’s aunts, Diane Arbery Jackson, simply said, “This is unbelievable.”

They were both crying. The day had been emotional, with family members crying when the video of Mr. Arbery’s murder was played for the jury in the morning. At various points during the deliberations, those gathered in the overflowing room prayed together for a guilty verdict.

When the judge finished reading the verdict, the people in the courtroom raised their fists. Mr. Arbery’s best childhood friend, Akeem Baker, was silent as the verdict was read. Her head was bowed and her eyes were red from crying. “I feel better,” he said.

The reports were contributed by Rick Rojas, Sergio Olmos, Nate schweber, Robert clarified, Ana Facio-Krajcer and Christian Boone.

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