Moments after the guilty verdicts were read aloud against the three white men accused of murdering Black jogger Ahmaud Arbery, reactions came flooding in from across the country.
“We finally got justice,” Arbery's mother, Wanda Cooper-Jones, said as she was hugged by supporters just outside the courtroom where Travis McMichael, his father, Gregory McMichael, and neighbor William Bryan were convicted of murdering her son last year after confronting him while he was jogging in Glynn County, Ga.
“To tell you the truth, I never saw this day back in 2020. I never thought this day would come. But God is good,” she added.
Outside the courthouse, Arbery’s father, Marcus Arbery, expressed relief.
“I don't want to see no daddy watch their kid get lynched and shot down like that,” he said, adding, “Today is a good day.”
The high-profile crime, which Bryan filmed, had clear racial overtones, and the defendants all still face federal hate crime charges. In a statement released shortly after the verdict, President Biden noted the role that race had played in the incident.
“Ahmaud Arbery’s killing — witnessed by the world on video — is a devastating reminder of how far we have to go in the fight for racial justice in this country. Mr. Arbery should be here today, celebrating the holidays with his mother, Wanda Cooper-Jones, and his father, Marcus Arbery. Nothing can bring Mr. Arbery back to his family and to his community, but the verdict ensures that those who committed this horrible crime will be punished,” Biden said in his statement.
“While the guilty verdicts reflect our justice system doing its job, that alone is not enough,” the president continued. “Instead, we must recommit ourselves to building a future of unity and shared strength, where no one fears violence because of the color of their skin. My administration will continue to do the hard work to ensure that equal justice under law is not just a phrase emblazoned in stone above the Supreme Court, but a reality for all Americans.”
The Rev. Al Sharpton, who had traveled to Glynn County to show support for Arbery's family, said the parents “lost a son, but their son will go down in history as one that proved that if you hold on, that justice can come.”
“This mother would tell me, ‘Reverend, we’re gonna win this,' when I had doubts,” Sharpton continued. “She kept praying. His father said, ‘We’ve got to get some justice for my son.’ And let the word go forth all over the world that a jury of 11 whites and one Black, in the Deep South, stood up in the courtroom and said that Black lives do matter.”
During the trial, Kevin Gough, the defense lawyer for Bryan, asked the judge to ban Sharpton and the Rev. Jesse Jackson from the courtroom, saying, “We don’t want any more Black pastors in here.”
In her own statement, Vice President Kamala Harris took issue with that request.
“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. The jury arrived at its verdicts despite these tactics,” Harris said in the statement.
Sen. Raphael Warnock, one of two Democrats representing the state in the U.S. Senate, was less effusive about the outcome of the trial. “This verdict upholds a sense of accountability, but not true justice,” Warnock said in a tweet. “True justice looks like a Black man not having to worry about being harmed — or killed — while on a jog, while sleeping in his bed, while living what should be a very long life. Ahmaud should be with us today.”
Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp released a statement praising the verdict and denouncing the defendants for what he saw as vigilantism.
“Ahmaud Arbery was the victim of a vigilantism that has no place in Georgia,” Kemp said. “As legal efforts continue to hold accountable all who may be responsible, we hope the Arbery family, the Brunswick community, our state, and those around the nation who have been following his case can now move forward with healing and reconciliation.”
The verdict came just days after a Wisconsin jury cleared teen Kyle Rittenhouse in the shooting deaths of two people and the wounding of another in Kenosha, Wis. In that case, Rittenhouse's lawyers argued that he acted in self-defense when he shot three men at a protest with a semiautomatic weapon. In both cases, the jury was asked to decide what actions defendants were entitled to take against unarmed people they perceived to be a threat.
For the men found guilty of murdering Arbery, the outcome was markedly different than for Rittenhouse, and the debate over what constitutes self-defense versus vigilantism will likely continue.
Nothing can bring #AhmaudArbery back. But this verdict is a big RED LIGHT to all vigilantes and wannabe cops who want to enforce their own made-up laws on people who don’t look like them. https://t.co/qoqa3PsepM
— Van Jones (@VanJones68) November 24, 2021
Jason Sheffield, the attorney representing Travis McMichael, called the verdict “disappointing,” and said of his client and his father, “These are two men who honestly believed that what they were doing is the right thing to do.”
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