The uncomfortable truths hidden inside the Ahmaud Arbery verdict

“This was broad day lynching that would have been perfectly fine,” said Justin Hansford, law professor at Howard University. “Without video recordings and protests, these people would have gotten away with it.”

The McMichaels defense lawyers argued that their clients had a duty to protect their neighborhood and they had the right to arrest Arbery, citing a Civil War Detention Act that read: Abolished earlier this year.

The white men, suspecting Arbery was behind a number of break-ins in the area, chased him as he jogged through Satilla Shores, a neighborhood outside of Brunswick, Georgia. On the day of the encounter, no one saw that he was doing anything nefarious and he was unarmed.

Still, a defense attorney told the jury that Travis McMichael was entitled to use lethal force because his client feared for his life while he and Arbery fought over the shotgun. McMichael said he was trying to avoid violence when he aimed the gun at Arberys as a “show of force” in an attempt to “de-escalate” the situation.

The jury didn’t buy it and sentenced the younger McMichael on the gravest charges: malicious murder, the willful intent to kill someone.

“The defendants have never seen a crime. You have no immediate knowledge of a crime. Mr. Arbery was not an attacker. He hadn’t committed a crime, ”said Ira Robbins, a professor at American University’s Washington College of Law.

“There was no arrest of a citizen and therefore no self-defense. Instead, there was just one totally unjustified murder as a result of vigilante justice, ”said Robbins.

In front of the courthouse after the verdict, the senior prosecutor Linda Dunikoski was short and sweet.

“The verdict today was a factual verdict,” said Dunikoski. “The jury system works in this country and if you present the truth to people and they can see it, they will do the right thing.”

Judgments for the Arbery murder trial come at a time when the country’s judicial system is re-focused, thanks in part to the clash of high-profile cases across three states that underscore America’s differing views on race, guns, and courtesy. Within a week, juries across the country have passed verdicts on three headline-grabbing cases, each dealing with an aspect of white vigilante justice.

On Tuesday, a Virginia jury found that white nationalist organizers of the 2017 deadly Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville had been held liable for more than $ 25 million in damages.

On Friday, a jury in Wisconsin acquitted a white teenager, Kyle Rittenhouse, of all five charges, including first degree first degree murder, for shooting three white people and killing two of them. This episode occurred during chaotic protests in Kenosha after the police were shot dead by a white officer of Jacob Blake, a black man who survived but is paralyzed.

“Having these three trials at once reminds us that White Vigilante violence is a huge problem,” said Hansford, the Howard Law professor who is also the director of the university’s Thurgood Marshall Civil Rights Center. “Black Lives Matter may have been too focused on the police.”

Legal experts, politicians and activists praise the verdict in the Arbery murder trial and shudder at how close this case was to not happening at all.

“Nothing can prevent the loss of #AhmaudArbery for his parents and loved ones, ”suffrage activist and former Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams tweeted.

She also thanked community organizers for saying Arbery’s name weeks before the arrests related to his murder.

“[T]The work of the local organizers + the Braunschweig community should not have been so important for ensuring justice. Georgia needs to move forward on criminal justice reform – not step down. “

Arbery was killed on February 23, 2020, but his death didn’t become part of national consciousness until May of that year when Bryan’s video was leaked and posted online. It was weeks before the assassination of George Floyd in Minneapolis by a white official that sparked national and international protests against police brutality and systemic racism.

Shortly after Arbery’s death, his relatives raised the alarm that no arrests or charges had been filed weeks after he was shot. His family, activists, and suspected race played a role in law enforcement’s initial reluctance.

It would take more than two months for local authorities to do the Georgia Bureau of Investigation to open a probe into the housing. Two public prosecutors had previously withdrawn.

One of those attorneys, former Brunswick Judicial Circuit District Attorney Jackie Johnson, who is white, was charged in September. She is charged with allegedly instructing local law enforcement agencies not to arrest Travis McMichael and for “showing favors” to Greg McMichael, according to them Atlanta Journal Constitution.

Greg McMichael is a retired law enforcement officer in the area.

GBI arrested McMichaels on May 7, two days after receiving the case. Bryan was arrested two weeks later.

University of Georgia law professor Melissa Redmon is not yet ready to draw important conclusions about the outcome of the Arbery murder trial.

She sees many parallels to a case almost a decade ago: the murder of Trayvon Martin.

“You have a similar situation where a white person faces a black person who tries to escape and excessive force is used and that person dies,” Redmon said.

“I think the key in this case has to be the video because the cases are essentially the same.”

She says that, given all it took to bring the Arbery case to court, she hopes it will attract more public attention Everyone Parts of the justice system instead of focusing solely on police reform.

“People have to watch out for the players in the criminal justice system. Prosecutors are elected, judges are elected, [but] most people don’t pay attention to court elections. ”

Judge Timothy Wamsley of the Eastern Circuit of Georgia presided over the trial five judges in Glynn County after all withdrew from the case.

Race hovered over the judicial process from the start: from the selection of the almost exclusively white juries to the accused’s allegation that lethal violence was okay because they were afraid of an unarmed black man.

Defense attorney Laura Hogue delved into the racial issue late in the trial, where she not only blamed Arbery for his own death, but mockingly described the dead man’s feet and caused audible gasps in the courtroom.

“Turning Ahmaud Arbery into a victim after his choices doesn’t reflect the reality of what Ahmaud Arbery brought to Satilla Shores in his sock khaki shorts to cover his long, dirty toenails,” said attorney Laura Hogue the judges painting a picture of Arbery as a repeated nocturnal intruder.

At one point during the trial, Kevin Gough, an attorney for Bryan, asked the judge to Bar Black Pastors from the courtroom gallery, a request that was denied.

The trial for the McMichaels and Bryan does not end with conviction. All three still facing federal hate crime charges Filed April by the Justice Department.

Hours after the verdict, Vice President Kamala Harris said she shared the sadness felt by Wanda Cooper-Jones and Marcus Arbery, Ahmaud’s parents. Harris, a former California attorney general, also highlighted the defense team.

“These rulings send an important message, but the fact remains that we still have a lot to do,” said Harris in a statement. “The defense attorney has chosen to use a tone that depicts the presence of ministers at the trial as intimidating and dehumanizing a young black man with racist tropes. Despite these tactics, the jury came to their verdict. ”

While Rittenhouse’s acquittal exposed apparent partisan divisions, with conservatives praising him as a patriot and liberals denouncing the verdict as a miscarriage of justice, the outcome of Arbery’s murder spree was greeted with a bipartisan sigh of relief.

“The murder of Ahmaud Arbery – which the world saw on video – is a devastating reminder of how far we must go in the struggle for racial justice in this country,” said President Biden said in a statement.

“The guilty verdicts reflect that our judicial system is doing its job, but that alone is not enough.”

Georgia Republican governor Brian Kemp made a similar statement in a statement Wednesday.

“Ahmaud Arbery was the victim of vigilante justice that has no place here in Georgia.” Kemp said He hoped that all who followed the Arbery case “can now walk a path of healing and reconciliation”.

The US criminal justice system remains flawed, legal scholars say. But in a process where race permeated the judicial process, the judiciary, at least for once, wasn’t just blind, it was color-blind.

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