There were cries of both relief and celebration after three white men were found guilty of murdering Ahmaud Arbery, a Black jogger who they chased in their trucks then shot and killed as he made his way through a suburban neighbourhood in Georgia in early 2020.
Reaction online was rapid with commentators and political figures quick to share their thoughts on the convictions of Gregory and Travis McMichael, and their neighbour William “Roddie” Bryan.
Georgia Democrat and voting rights activist Stacey Abrams took to Twitter, posting: “A jury believed the evidence of their eyes and saw the meanness in the killers’ hearts. May this verdict bring a small measure of peace to Ahmaud Arbery’s family and loved ones.”
She continued: “Nothing can ever assuage the loss of Ahmaud Arbery for his parents and loved ones, and the work of local organizers [and] the Brunswick community should not have been so vital to securing justice.”
Ms Abrams added: “Georgia must move forward on criminal justice reforms — not retreat.”
The Reverend Al Sharpton, speaking outside the court following the verdict, noted the landmark decision by the jury: “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.”
Before he spoke, demonstrators chanted with joy at the verdict: “What do we want? Justice! When did we get it? Today!”
Georgia Governor Brian Kemp released a statement that read: “Ahmaud Arbery was the victim of a vigilantism that has no place in Georgia.”
He continued: “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 down a path of healing and reconciliation.”
Mr Arbery’s parents spoke also outside the courthouse. His mother Wanda Cooper-Jones said “I never thought this day would come — but God is good.”
His father, Marcus Arbery, said: “I don’t want to see no daddy watch their kid get lynched and shot down like that ... Today is a good day.”
The White House released a statement from President Joe Biden: “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,” he continued.
“While the guilty verdicts reflect our justice system doing its job, that alone is not enough. 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,” the president added. “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.”
Vice President Kamala Harris said the weight of grief remains, and that nothing can take away the pain felt by the Arbery family and the community, which she shares.
Adding that the verdict sends an important message, Ms Harris said there is still and work to do, noting: “The defence counsel chose to set a tone that cast the attendance of ministers at the trial as intimidation, and dehumanised a young Black man with racist tropes. The jury arrived at its verdicts despite these tactics.”
The vice president added that Ahmaud’s life had meaning and he will not be forgotten: “We honor him best by continuing the fight for justice.” Georgia Senator Raphael Warnock said that the verdict “upholds a sense of accountability, but not true justice.”
“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,” he added.
His fellow Senator Jon Ossoff noted that “historic civil rights mobilisation was necessary for the killer to face prosecution at all. There was nearly impunity for this murder, and further investigation is necessary to determine how and why officials initially refused to pursue the case.”
He added that the circumstances of the murder and the struggle required to secure a prosecution demonstrate profoundly the urgency of reforms to make equal justice real in America.
Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr said: “The loss of Ahmaud Arbery was a tragedy that should have never occurred. Today’s verdict brings us one step closer to justice, healing, and reconciliation for Ahmaud’s family, the community, the state, and the nation.”
A statement by the Congressional Black Caucus reiterates that “vigilante justice has no place in our society”, while calling for criminal justice reform and gun control measures.
Veteran journalist Dan Rather called the outcome of the trial: “A modicum of justice after a horrific act of violence.”
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