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Ahmaud Arbery verdict represents 'progress' toward 'true justice,' civil rights leaders say

USA TODAY logo USA TODAY 6 days ago Lindsay Schnell, USA TODAY
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A guilty verdict in the trial of the three white men charged with Ahmaud Arbery's murder last year in Georgia brought an eruption of praise from prominent political figures to civil rights organizations.

The predominantly white jury's decision was justice for Arbery's family, they said. But a clear theme emerged in their reaction: Justice is far from guaranteed in the American courts system, particularly for people of color.

"While today we applaud the justice system working for Ahmaud Arbery, we know it has too often failed so many," DNC Chair Jaime Harrison and DNC Black Caucus Chair Virgie Rollins said in a statement. “The grief that courses through the Black community each time another senseless act of violence is committed is far too familiar. Each victim is a son, a daughter, a brother, a sister, a guardian, a friend, a colleague – their lives and contributions hold tremendous value and meaning. They should be here."

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Georgia Sen. Raphael Warnock, the state's first Black senator, said the verdict "upholds a sense of accountability, but not true justice."

"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," he said in a statement. "Ahmaud should be with us today."

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Civil rights attorney Ben Crump, who represents Arbery's father, Marcus, shared a similar feeling. He described the jury's verdict as "progress" toward equal justice but cautioned that "we are nowhere close to the finish line."

"After nearly two years of pain, suffering, and wondering if Ahmaud’s killers would be held to account, the Arbery family finally has some justice. Nothing will bring back Ahmaud, but his family will have some peace knowing the men who killed him will remain behind bars and can never inflict their brand of evil on another innocent soul," Crump said in a statement. "While today is not one for celebration, it is one for reflection."

He added, "This case, by all accounts, should have been opened and closed ... the violent stalking and lynching of Ahmaud Arbery was documented on video for the world to witness. But yet, because of the deep cracks, flaws, and biases in our systems, we were left to wonder if we would ever see justice."

Support for the verdict – and the continued quest for justice for all – came from the White House, too.

President Joe Biden called Arbery’s killing “a devastating reminder of how far we have to go in the fight for racial justice in this country.” Vice President Kamala Harris said “the defense counsel chose to set a tone that cast the attendance of ministers at the trial as intimidation and dehumanized a young Black man with racist tropes. The jury arrived at its verdicts despite these tactics … we honor (Arbery) best by continuing the fight for justice.”

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Other leaders from major civil rights organization echoed those thoughts.  

Margaret Huang, president and CEO of the Southern Poverty Law Center, called the verdict "necessary." 

“Through this conviction, the criminal justice system has begun to address the pervasive inequities that exist when it comes to the treatment of Black and brown people," Huang said in a statement. "However, the system and those responsible for prosecuting such crimes must face the reality that, while there was video documentation of this murder, that is not the case for most crimes that occur in our country.

“It is important to remember that the first prosecutor who reviewed this case, who had worked with Gregory McMichael, attempted to clear these men of all charges and is now facing criminal charges herself for her conduct in this case. If that sickening video had never become public, we almost certainly would not have had today's verdict, or any trial at all."

Father and son Gregory and Travis McMichael and their neighbor, William "Roddie" Bryan, were not charged in Arbery's February 2020 death until two months later, when Bryan's cellphone video of the killing was made public.

Georgia Sen. Jon Ossoff, Warnock's colleague, decried the initial handling of the case, saying "a historic civil rights mobilization was necessary for the killers to face prosecution at all."

“The circumstances of Ahmaud Arbery’s murder and the struggle required to secure a prosecution demonstrate profoundly the urgency of reforms to make equal justice real in America," Ossoff said.

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot also pointed to the "initial response by local authorities," calling it "a reminder that we must continue our commitment to use our words and our deeds to face and address historic wrongs, and to make good on the promises we tell our children.”

Derrick Johnson, president and CEO of the National Association of the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), called the verdict "long overdue" and that Arbery's death was "unnecessary and fueled by racist ideologies deeply engrained into the fabric of this nation."

"Generations of Black people have seen this time and time again, with the murder of Emmett Till, Trayvon Martin, and many others," Johnson said in a statement. "The actions and events perpetrated by the McMichaels and William Bryan leading up to Ahmaud's death reflect a growing and deepening rift in America that will be its undoing if not addressed on a systemic level. We must fix what is genuinely harming our nation: white supremacy."

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Ahmaud Arbery verdict represents 'progress' toward 'true justice,' civil rights leaders say

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