Do not be fooled. Not for one minute. The State of Georgia’s justice system failed Ahmaud Arbery. It failed. While many of us are relieved at the guilty verdicts again the McMichaels and Bryan, those verdicts happened in spite of Georgia’s justice system, not because of it.
Remember these details: It took seventy-four days for anyone to be arrested after Ahmaud Arbery was murdered. The first prosecutor tried to shield the men who killed him and public pressure forced her resignation. A second prosecutor also had to resign. A video, taken by one of the murderers, was leaked to a radio station and that prompted national outrage. People filled the streets for two months before the three men who killed him were finally arrested. People and protest made this happen. Not the system. If the system had its way, no one would have been arrested, there would have no arrests, no video, no trial, no guilty verdicts, no accountability.
People and protest forced the system to arrest, try, and convict these men. Primarily, Wanda Cooper-Jones, Ahmaud Arbery’s mother. She persisted in speaking out to anyone who would listen. She didn’t know there was a video, but she knew her son. She kept raising his case to any media sources who would listen. Many came to her side, including the NAACP and the National Action Network. But let’s be clear. It was not the system that brought about these verdicts.
Also, recall what happened during jury selection. The defense sought to remove all Black jurors. They succeeded in creating a jury of eleven white people and one Black person. The prosecution objected and the judge admitted there was a discriminatory intent on the part of the defense lawyers, but he also concluded he couldn’t do anything about it.
Too many cities, counties, and states across America, have networks of privilege in place, where prosecutors know police, police know investigators, investigators know judges, and these networks of friendship often rise up to resist what the law requires and what justice demands. This network almost worked in Brunswick, Georgia. But because people persisted and protested, this network could not accomplish what it tried to accomplish. But the justice system in the State of Georgia did not bring this about. People did. America has a lot of work to do in dismantling these networks all over the country.
The painting of Ahmaud Arbery above is by my friend, artist, actor, director, Jeremy Patterson.