Brunswick, GA – White people who chased and killed Ahmaud Arbery when he ran down a residential street, he remained at large for more than two months, and police and prosecutors apparently agreed with their story that the young black man was a fugitive criminal who turned and attacked before being shot.
Two years after Arbury died on February 23, 2020, the trio responsible for the deadly persecution saw his version of events rejected in court. After two trials that took place a few months apart, the three men were able to convicted not only of murderbut also with federal hate crimes.
Against the backdrop of national accounts for racial injustice in the criminal justice system, simultaneous convictions supported the family of Arbery and local activists, who initially feared that the murder near Georgia’s port city of Brunswick could go unpunished.
“It shows that there is hope for our justice system,” said Rev. John Perry, who was president of the NAACP branch in Brunswick when Arbury was killed. “I don’t think it completely changes the game.”
Activists are hoping for a similar outcome in Minneapolis, where the jury began the meeting on Wednesday in a federal trial of three fired police officers accused of violating George Floyd’s civil rights. Floyd, a black man, died on May 25, 2020, when then-officer Derek Chauvin pressed him to the ground and pressed his knees to his neck for what authorities say was 9 1/2 minutes.
In Georgia, Perry planned to join Arbery’s father and other relatives and friends on Wednesday night as they celebrate the second anniversary of his death in a procession through the Satilla Shores unit, where he was killed less than 2 miles (3.2 kilometers) from his home. Arbury’s mother, Wanda Cooper-Jones, attended an event in honor of her son in Atlanta, where state lawmakers passed a resolution declaring February 23 Ahmoud Arbury Day in Georgia.
“If we hear Ahmaud Arberi’s name, now we will hear and think about change,” Cooper-Jones told the audience.
Arbury had entered technical college and was preparing to study to be an electrician, like his uncle when he was killed at the age of 25. His parents did not call Tuesday’s jury verdict on Tuesday a victory, noting that the verdicts would not return their son.
However, many in Brunswick and Glyn counties, a community of nearly 85,000 people with 26 percent black people, saw the Arbury murder trial as a test of justice and an opportunity to confront what they saw as outrageous racism. .
Father and son Greg and Travis McMichael armed themselves and used a pickup truck to chase Arbury, noticing him running past their home on Sunday afternoon. Neighbor William “Roddy” Brian joined the chase in his own truck and recorded a video on his mobile phone in which Travis McMichael blew up Arbury with a gun.
Despite the men’s suspicions that Arbury was a criminal, investigators found no evidence he stole something or committed other crimes in the neighborhood. Travis McMichael testified in court about the murder that opened fire in self-defense after Arbury attacked with his fists.
Evidence in a week-long hate crime trial included about two dozen text messages and social media posts in which men used racist insults and other humiliated black people. Brian scoffed at Martin Luther King’s holiday and reacted bitterly when he learned that his daughter was dating a black man. Travis McMichael complained that black people “spoil everything,” and commented on a video in which a black man pranks on a white man: “I would kill that damn thing.”
Travis Riddle owns a soulful food restaurant in Brunswick, where a photo hangs on the wall in a frame in which the sheriff arrested Greg McMichael in May 2020. Riddle, who is Black, said he hopes the revelation of racism, supported by McMichaels and Brian, will make other like-minded people hesitate to share their views.
“There are other people who think that what they did was right, but as a result of this case, they will suppress these thoughts and actions,” Riddle said. “Brunswick has shown them twice that we’re not with that.”
The legal battle is not over. Former District Attorney Jackie Johnson, ousted in 2020 by voters who accused her of suspended arrests in the Arbury case, was charged last year on charges of misconduct, that she used her office to defend McMichael.
Greg McMichael worked for Johnson as an investigator and left her a phone message after the shooting. Johnson denied the crimes, insisting she immediately referred the case to an outside prosecutor. Her case is pending in the Glyn County High Court.
“Our system has suffered a major breakdown that has robbed a young man of his life,” said Perry, a former NAACP leader. “Our system has failed to make an arrest. The responsibility lies somewhere, and I think this investigation is an honest attempt to find out where the breakdown happened.”
Brunswick activists also sought reform in Glyn County Police. Her investigation into Arbury’s death lasted until May 2020, when a graphic video of the shooting surfaced online, and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation took over.
District commissioners hired a department last summer the first black police chief after agreeing to national search. A Better Glynn, a local group formed after Arbery’s death to promote racial and socioeconomic justice, has been urging officials to look for candidates outside of Georgia.
The group continues to call on commissioners to set up a civic review commission for the police department, a proposal that has not been accepted over the past year.
“We’re not necessarily going to be here, changing a lot of hearts,” said Elijah Bobby Henderson, one of the group’s founders, “but we’re going to change a lot of policies.”
Associated Press writer Sudhin Tanawala of Atlanta contributed to this report.
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