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US responds to guilty verdict in Ahmaud Arbery murder case

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From the moment the first guilty verdict was delivered in a Georgian courtroom, a cascade of tears and cries of revenge raced across the country. Black parents called their children crying. The activists choked on themselves, embracing what they called a rare instance of justice.

In a country of huge racial divisions, guns and vigilante violence were recently on display in courtrooms in Kenosha, Wisconsin, in Charlottesville, Virginia, in Brunswick, Georgia, the guilty verdicts on Wednesday against three white men who pursued and killed Ahmaud Arbery have been hailed by political leaders and many Americans from all walks of life.

Gov. Brian Kemp of Georgia, a Republican, said he hoped the verdicts would help the country move forward on the road to healing and reconciliation. President Biden said the verdict shows the justice system is doing its job, but said Mr Arberys’ murder and the chilling videotape that recorded it was a measure of the country’s continuing racial inequalities.

Widespread exclamations of support for the jury’s verdict on what some activists called a 21st century lynching contrasted starkly with the deeply polarized response to the acquittal of Kyle Rittenhouse, the 18-year-old white boy who killed two people during the unrest . in Kenosha following the police shooting of a black man last year.

Many Tories hailed Mr Rittenhouses’ acquittal last week as a victory for self-defense and gun rights, while liberals feared it would encourage armed vigilance in response to racial justice protests .

Kyle Rittenhouse’s verdict is the America I wait for, Arbery’s verdict is the America I stand for, said Rev. Lenny Duncan, 43, a black pastor in Portland, Ore., Who attended many protests that rocked the city last year after the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and other black Americans.

The conviction of the three defendants indicted in Mr. Arberys in February 2020 for the murder of Travis McMichael, 35; his father, Gregory McMichael, 65; and their neighbor William Bryan, 52, has sparked little criticism or protest.

Lawyers for Travis McMichael told reporters they respect the jury’s decision but plan to appeal the verdict, which they described as disappointing and sad.

It’s a very difficult day for Travis McMichael and Greg McMichael, said Jason Sheffield, one of the lawyers, adding that they both honestly believed what they were doing was the right thing to do.

The men also face federal hate crimes charges and are expected to be tried in February.

The verdict was a relief to some black Americans who had watched the trial with sadness and dread. Many had urgently hoped for a guilty verdict, but feared the predominantly white jury would side with defense attorneys who described the three white defendants as neighbors worried about a spate of crime in their neighborhood when they set off after Mr. Arbery as he ran down the street.

Thank goodness for that verdict today, said Warren Stewart Jr., a black clergyman and political activist in Phoenix. I started calling some friends and they are crying on the phone. Its bittersweet. Having two black sons is scary. This is real life for us.

Mr Stewarts’ son, Micaiah, 18, had paid great attention to the trial, and the family tried to balance their hopes and prayers for a guilty verdict with a long history of high-profile murders of black men and women who have been found justified by justice.

Too often they get away with it, said Micaiah Stewart. He said the murder of Mr. Arberys on a public street seemed to confirm his own fears of simply stepping out as a young black man in the United States.

Some black Americans have said the trial was a litmus test for their frayed confidence in the legal system. They said the video showing how an unarmed black man was chased, cornered and shot left little room for doubt in their minds that Mr Arberys’ death was murder.

We look forward to the day when it will no longer be a question of when someone is lynched by a racist that it’s murder, said Hawk Newsome, co-founder of Black Lives Matter Greater New York, who called the verdicts guilt of partial victory.

Mr Newsome said the convictions for Mr Arberys ‘murder alongside Mr Rittenhouses’ acquittal in the shooting of three white men protesting the police shooting of a black man added to a mixed message.

You cannot prosecute and murder black people and those who support them, he said. But if you pass it off as self-defense, you stand a chance.

In Atlanta, Chris Stewart, a lawyer who has represented several families of blacks killed by white police officers, choked back tears as he reflected on the verdict in Georgia.

It’s good to see racism lose, said Mr Stewart, whose clients include the family of Walter Scott, a 50-year-old black man shot in the back in 2015 by a South Carolina police officer. This case will be remembered for many years to come. You can’t overstate how big it is.

Understanding Ahmaud’s Murder ArberyCard 1 of 5

Shooting. On February 23, 2020, Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year-old black man, was shot and killed after being chased by three white men while jogging near his home on the outskirts of Brunswick, Georgia. Mr. Arbery’s murder was captured in a graphic video which was widely viewed by the public.

The victim. Mr. Arbery was a former high school football player and avid jogger. At the time of his death, he was living with his mother outside of the small coastal town in southern Georgia.

The suspects. Three white men Gregory McMichael, 67, his 35-year-old son Travis McMichael and their neighbor William Bryan, 52, have been charged with the murder of Mr. Arbery. They told authorities they suspected Mr. Arbery of having committed a series of break-ins.

The verdict. On November 24, a jury found the three defendants guilty of murder and other charges. The men, who face sentences of up to life in prison, have also been charged with separate federal charges and are expected to stand trial in February.

Mr. Stewart said that if the verdict had been against it would have broken me, I would have lost faith in the system. He said the jury’s decision shows African Americans that justice is possible.

But only sometimes, have said a lot. The three defendants were not arrested until weeks after the shooting, and only once has a video of Mr. Arberys’ final moments sparked national outrage and anger.

They had no choice but to convict them, said Wilburt Dawson, 68, as he and a friend sat at the Dugans Restaurant and Bar in Atlanta’s Old Fourth Ward, pondering the verdict.

But without the video, none of that happens, said his friend, Curtis Duren, 64. If the men had been acquitted there would have been such an uprising, Mr Duren said. It would have destroyed the moral fabric of America.

In Brunswick, local officials and activists widely announced the verdict. Allen Booker, a city commissioner who represents the majority of black residents of Brunswick, said he was thrilled for Mr Arberys’ family while acknowledging that nothing could bring Mr Arbery back.

Bobby Henderson, co-founder of A Better Glynn, a local organization formed following Mr. Arberys’ death to push for greater diversity in local leadership, said he was pleased the Mr. Arberys’ family was held to account, but that more work was needed to combat the system that failed Ahmaud that day.

The Brunswick courthouse where the trial took place became a scene of celebration in tears.

Outside, where activists and supporters of Mr Arberys hugged, cried and joined hands in victory, John Howard, 60, a white man from Hazlehurst, Ga., Said justice had been served.

He called the murder a lynching. Mr Howard said it seemed like race relations were better when he was young. He grew up in the countryside and called his black elders uncle and aunt. The rift is now deeper, he said, but he felt people were coming together to protest injustice. Black and white citizens are fed up, he said. Enough is enough.

Theawanza Brooks, Mr Arberys’ aunt, said: Thank goodness as the judge read through every guilty verdict. Another aunt of Mr. Arberys, Diane Arbery Jackson, simply said: It’s amazing.

They were both in tears. It had been a moving day, with family members crying as video of Mr. Arberys’ murder was replayed for the jury in the morning. At various points during the deliberations, those gathered in the overflow room prayed together for a guilty verdict.

As the judge finished reading the verdict, those in the room raised their fists. Mr Arberys’ childhood best friend, Akeem Baker, was silent as the verdict was read. Her head was tilted and her eyes red from crying. I feel better, he said.

Reporting was provided by Rick Rojas, Sergio Olmos, Nate Schweber, Robert Chiarito, Ana Facio-Krajcer and Christian Boone.

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