Relief, yes. Rejoice – it’s more complicated.
The conviction of the three white men who shot Ahmed Arbery on a suburban street in Georgia last year gained wide acceptance across the United States on Wednesday, even as many conservatives agreed that justice served all three. He was held accountable for the chase and kill of an unarmed. A 25-year-old black man in shorts and a T-shirt was running through his neighborhood.
From a courtroom in the Deep South, where 11 of 12 jurors were white, it seemed common ground had been found after nearly two years of national counts on the race. But while the verdict was widely praised in Brunswick, many saw an America still badly beset by injustice, with a precarious path to real reconciliation, even with criminals. was carried away in handcuffs and Arbery’s family celebrated a victory that others like him had not had in generations. ,
The guilty findings against Gregory McMichael, his son, Travis McMichael, and neighbor William “Roddy” Bryan came at a particularly frightening moment—a backdrop of relentless political rancor, intensified by more than one exhaustion. deadly epidemic Which is grinding and reshaping America like an endless blow.
Anger, despair and time to rest a little. Again, on the eve of this thanksgiving, when a mother’s suffering was eased in prayer with bowed heads and joyful echoes of joy were heard from the courtyard stairs, many saw a day of satisfying retribution.
Outside the Glynn County Courthouse, not far from the salt marshes and rivers that surround this town of old Victorian homes, retired city government clerk Delores Polite smiled.
“The old history made me skeptical,” said the 65-year-old community worker, whose ancestors were auctioned off as slaves in the port of Charleston, SC, 130 miles up the Atlantic coast. “But this is new history.”
For a case whose details unfolded in such gruesomely intimate fashion, its scope was nonetheless seen as far-reaching, much like the police killing of George Floyd, whose death sparked the Black Lives Matter movement. David Anderson, MD, a black megachurch pastor in Columbia, said that for him, the outcome involved “much more than Arbery.”
“Our country is badly divided on race,” said Anderson, 55, a writer and radio host who leads Bridgeway Community Church, a multiracial congregation with a large Black membership. Guilty verdicts, he said, “give us that little glimmer of hope, that justice may roll down like water.”
The recent acquittal of Kyle Rittenhouse, the teen who killed two people with an AR-15 rifle he brought to a tense protest scene in Wisconsin, was a case far more polarizing than this. Rittenhouse was corrected and brought up by former President Trump, but even among self-described conservatives, support for Arbery’s attackers was overwhelmingly muted.
Howard Vestal of Dallas, 78, a U.S. Air Force veteran and retired architect who volunteers for the Texas Chapter of Gun Owners for Security, called the decision justified.
“Responsible gun ownership is the only type of gun ownership we can tolerate in a democracy,” he said. “The people who shot and killed Arbery – a scare factor for people carrying guns, even if it can be done legally. It’s a threat to all of us, to our democracy. Guns The violence of is getting closer and closer to touching us all.”
For others, however, Arbery’s murder was a devastating light on how racial inequalities render mundane pursuits a deadly risk. In Orangeburg, SC, Justin Bamberg faces tears as he hears the word “guilty” repeatedly on live TV from the courthouse.
Democratic state representative Bamberg, 34, has represented families in several high-profile cases following police shootings in 2016 including Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, LA.
“Today is a solid day of progress for our country,” he said. “It’s a decision we’ve been longing for.”
But Bamberg said that as a black man, he did not feel safe to engage in ordinary activities such as street running, as Arbery was doing when he was chased and attacked.
Among many around the country and around the world, Arbery’s murder added to the brand of brutal violence that had long been associated with generations of the American South, replete with lynchings and repressive Jim Crow laws.
Still in Brunswick, a small The port city, about 80 miles south of Savannah, Ga., residents liked to say that their home was not traditionally known for extreme racial violence.
An aunt of Arbery, 37-year-old Thewanza Brooks, who sat in the courthouse to take notes throughout the trial, said her nephew’s death was different from anything she had experienced before. Growing up here and attending Brunswick High School, she said, she did not experience racism and never had any reason to think about how she was treated.
“I was taught to love everyone,” said Brooks, who is an assistant manager of a retail store. “But this one is different, because it is like a modern-day lynching from 400 years ago. To think that we were free at the time, and then for this to happen, it took me back mentally. ,
Republican leaders in Georgia condemned Arbery’s killing and said vigilante-style violence has no place in their state. Republican Governor Brian Kemp responded to the February 2020 shooting of Arbery by signing the state’s first hate crime bill in June of that year, which introduced additional penalties for crimes motivated by prejudice.
In May of this year, Georgia repealed the state’s civil arrest law and significantly restricted the ability to arrest anyone not having a certified law enforcement officer. Kemp called the old law “ancient” and “ripe for abuse.”
“I think it’s the right thing to do,” Kemp told a Savannah TV news outlet at the time. “What we saw in the Ahmaud Arbery case … is not the state of Georgia that I know of. We are better than that.”
It seemed that in many regions the remnants of the past were ending up in a nation that had so long failed to withstand the sins and injustices on which its foundation rests. Arbery’s decision was the latest marking in a slowly changing ledger.
However, some in Brunswick believed that their community was stigmatized by the case, in a way that they felt was not square with the city they knew.
“Everyone has an opinion that the South is racist, but I think African Americans and whites get along really well here,” said Bill Hester, who works as a dock master at a marina off the courthouse. .
A 59-year-old white man who considers himself conservative said he hoped the outcome would bring healing – though he questioned whether third defendant Brian should face the same harsh punishment as the father and son who initially pursued did.
But for many, what was perceived only as a worst-case scenario—avoiding a comprehensive acquittal—was no cause for celebration. The convicted trio were almost never held accountable; He was not arrested until 74 days later, when a video circulated online sparked outrage.
And the trial was punctuated by jarring moments: On the 911 call played as evidence, the nature of the emergency was described by one of the accused as “a black man running across the street.” The lead defense attorney made a derogatory reference to Arbery’s “long, dirty toenails.” The defense’s unsuccessful demand is that the leaders of the black faith should not be allowed to come to the court.
“As a Christian, black man, and pastor of a majority African American congregation, this case hits close to home,” said pastor Emory Berry of Greenforest Community Baptist Church outside Atlanta.
He called the decision “monumental” but also “transient”.
“In the 21st century, it is disheartening, discouraging and depressing to see the devaluation of black lives and the politicization of our justice system.”
However, as in all such cases, Wednesday’s verdict pointed to a bleak truth: justice is sometimes far from consolation.
“The guilty verdict will not bring Ahmed Arbery back,” Berry said. “But it will seal that his life and death were not in vain.”
Jarvi reported from Brunswick, Kaleem from Los Angeles, Hennessy-Fiske from Houston and King from Washington.