For many, guilty verdicts in Arbery case mark progress for racial justice in court
Updated November 24, 2021 at 7:19 PM ET
Civil rights activists, lawyers and politicians joined Ahmaud Arbery's family in welcoming the guilty verdict in Georgia against three men charged in his murder.
"It just was a great day for my family," Marcus Arbery, Ahmaud's father, told NPR in an interview with All Things Considered following the verdict. "We still got a long fight to go."
Ahmaud Arbery, 25-year-old Black man, was chased down and fatally shot by three white men while he was jogging through their Georgia neighborhood last year. On Wednesday, a jury found the men — father and son Greg McMichael and Travis McMichael, and their neighbor William "Roddie" Bryan — guilty on most counts.
Ben Crump, a civil rights attorney, said that while the outcome brings some justice and peace to Arbery's family, it's not cause for celebration, but for reflection.
"This case, by all accounts, should have been opened and closed ... the violent stalking and lynching of Ahmaud Arbery was documented for video for the world to witness. But yet, because of the deep cracks, flaws, and biases in our systems, we were left to wonder if we would ever see justice," Crump said in a statement following the verdict.
"We still have work to do," he later told NPR in the joint interview with Marcus, noting that it's just one victory in a criminal justice system that's yielded mixed outcomes for people of color.
"We don't want to have this burden of having videos ... to give black people who are killed unjustly access to the courts, access to justice," he said, referring to critical evidence presented in the murder trials of Arbery and George Floyd.
The killing drew national attention for what was widely viewed as yet another test case for racial justice. While the state trial did not include evidence supporting racial bias, that will be the focus of the three men's federal hate crimes trial set for next year.
"The verdict today was a verdict based on the facts. Based on the evidence," prosecutor Linda Dunikoski said at a news conference minutes after the verdict was announced.
"When you present the truth to people and they can see it, they will do the right thing," she said. "And that's what this jury did today in getting justice for Ahmaud Arbery."
The American Civil Liberties Union reacted to the verdict, tweeting, "The true measure of justice is not in a verdict, but in making a future where people don't live in fear of racialized violence. We will not stop doing the long hard work to achieve this future."
Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp said "Arbery was the victim of a vigilantism that has no place in Georgia," adding that he hopes the continued legal efforts can help people "move forward down a path of healing and reconciliation."
Vice President Kamala Harris criticized the defense team for what she described as racist tactics used during the trial.
"These verdicts send an important message, but the fact remains that we still have work to do," she said in a statement. "The defense counsel chose to set a tone that cast the attendance of ministers at the trial as intimidation and dehumanized a young Black man with racist tropes," Harris said in a statement after the verdict was delivered.
Harris' reference to racist tropes alludes to how defense attorney Laura Hogue cast Arbery in her closing arguments. Hogue described him as having run through the Georgia neighborhood with "with no socks to cover his long, dirty toenails."
Despite that, the verdict gives Crump hope. A jury comprising 10 white people and one Black person ultimately came to a verdict based "on the evidence," he told NPR, and didn't give into "this dog-whistle racial rhetoric."
"They looked at Ahmaud as a human being, as an American citizen worthy of all the constitutional promises and guarantees like equality and justice," Crump said.
As for the defense, Gregory McMichael's team expressed disappointment as the gallery broke out of the courtroom. The elder McMichael was found guilty on eight of nine counts, one less than his son.
"I'm floored, floored with a capital 'F,'" said Hogue, one of Gregory McMichael's lawyers. Frank Hogue, who also represents the elder McMichael, said attorneys plan to appeal the verdict after sentencing.
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