'He will now rest in peace.' Ahmaud Arbery's mother, activists and leaders react to guilty verdicts
Minutes after the jury announced guilty verdicts for the three white men charged in Ahmaud Arbery's murder, a crowd gathered on the steps of the Glynn County Courthouse.
A community of faith leaders, civil rights activists and supporters had descended on Brunswick in the final days of the trial and surrounded the family after the final outcome.
Well over a year and-a-half since her son was killed, Arbery’s mother Wanda Cooper-Jones said she “never thought this day would come.”
Ahmaud Arbery's mother, Wanda Cooper Jones, reacts to the guilty verdicts for all three defendants in the trial of the killing of her son.
“Thank you to everyone who fought this fight with us," she said. "It’s been a long fight. It’s been a hard fight, but God is good. Now Quez — which you know him as Ahmaud, I know him as Quez — he will now rest in peace.”
Arbery's mother was one voice in a chorus celebrating the jury’s verdict. Civil rights activists and politicians praised the decision: all three defendants found guilty of felony murder.
The vigilante-style shooting death of Arbery garnered national attention, when a viral video of his final moments jogging down Satilla Shores Drive and then being fatally shot in broad daylight shocked the nation.
The trial was widely followed across the country and the verdict was highly anticipated.
Civil rights activist the Rev. Al Sharpton said that “Brunswick, Georgia, will go down in history.”
“Let the word go forth all over the world that a jury of 11 whites and one Black come out in the Deep South, stood up in the courtroom and said ‘Black lives do matter.’”
Lead prosecutor Linda Dunikoski spoke to the crowd gathered outside the courthouse after the Arbery verdict. She said the jury system works in this country and that when presented with the truth juries will do the right thing.
On Wednesday, Georgia civil rights groups and politicians reacted to the verdict.
U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock, the state’s first Black senator and a famed pastor, said in a statement that the outcome of the case “upholds a sense of accountability, but not true justice.”
I'm grateful to the jury for their service and for a verdict that says Ahmaud Arbery’s life mattered. He was a son, a nephew, a child of God, and he did not deserve to die in this way.— Reverend Raphael Warnock (@ReverendWarnock) November 24, 2021
I'm praying for Ahmaud’s family as they begin the difficult journey towards healing.
"True justice looks like a young 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,” Warnock said. "Ahmaud should be with us today. I am grateful to the jury for their service and for a verdict that says Ahmaud Arbery’s life mattered. He was a son, a nephew, a child of God and he did not deserve to die in this way.”
The ACLU of Georgia, which has been deeply involved in the case, spotlighted that Arbery’s death sparked change in Georgia, including the repeal of the state’s Civil War-era citizen’s arrest statute.
“With their verdict, the jury rejected the vestige of Jim Crow and the assertion of white supremacy that was at the center of this case,” said Andrea Young, executive director of the ACLU. "This is a vitally important step, brought about because of the determination of Ahmaud Arbery’s family and his community and the public protests."
President Joe Biden also weighed in on the outcome.
“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,” Biden said in a written statement. “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.”
Arbery’s murder fueled calls for change that were answered. Since the February 2020 killing, the Georgia General Assembly passed a bipartisan hate crimes law in his honor and repealed the state’s citizen’s arrest statute.
“Ahmaud Arbery was the victim of vigilantism that has no place in Georgia,” Gov. Brian Kemp said in a statement. “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.”
Atlanta Mayor Kiesha Lance Bottoms also released a statement following the news.
“I am grateful the jury has found the three men responsible for the senseless murder of Ahmaud Arbery guilty of their crimes,” she said. “I am hopeful that this verdict gives Mr. Arbery’s family, and people across America, some level of comfort in knowing that these men are being held accountable for taking the life of an innocent young man.”
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