Ahmaud Arbery's hometown hopes for change after convictions

9 months ago

BRUNSWICK, Ga. -- The white men who chased and killed Ahmaud Arbery as he ran on a residential street remained free for more than two months, with police and prosecutors appearing to accept their story that the young Black man was a fleeing criminal who turned and attacked before being fatally shot.

Two years after Arbery fell dead on Feb. 23, 2020, the trio responsible for the deadly pursuit has seen its version of events rejected in court. After two trials held a few months apart, the three men have been convicted not only of murder, but also of federal hate crimes.

Amid a national reckoning over racial injustice in the criminal legal system, the back-to-back guilty verdicts have bolstered Arbery's family and local activists who initially feared the killing just outside the Georgia port city of Brunswick might go unpunished.

“It shows that there’s hope for our justice system,” said the Rev. John Perry, who was president of the Brunswick NAACP chapter when Arbery was killed. “I don’t think it’s an absolute game changer.”

Activists are hoping for a similar outcome in Minneapolis, where jurors started deliberating Wednesday in the federal trial of three fired police officers charged with violating George Floyd’s civil rights. Floyd, a Black man, died on May 25, 2020, when then-officer Derek Chauvin pinned him to the ground and pressed a knee 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 Wednesday evening as they mark the second anniversary of his death with a procession through the Satilla Shores subdivision where he was killed less than 2 miles (3.2 kilometers) from his home. Arbery's mother, Wanda Cooper-Jones, attended an event honoring her son in Atlanta, where state lawmakers passed a resolution declaring Feb. 23 Ahmaud Arbery Day in Georgia.

“When we hear the name of Ahmaud Arbery, we will now hear and think of change,” Cooper-Jones told those in attendance.

Arbery had enrolled at a technical college and was preparing to study to become an electrician, like his uncles, when he was killed at age 25. His parents stopped short of calling the hate crime verdicts delivered by a jury Tuesday a victory, noting the convictions won't bring back their son.

Still, many in Brunswick and surrounding Glynn County, a community of nearly 85,000 where Black residents make up 26% of the population, saw the trials over Arbery's killing as a test of the justice system as well as an opportunity to confront what they saw as blatant racism.

Father and son Greg and Travis McMichael armed themselves and used a pickup truck to chase Arbery after spotting him run past their home on a Sunday afternoon. A neighbor, William “Roddie” Bryan joined the pursuit in his own truck and recorded cellphone video of Travis McMichael blasting Arbery ...

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