BRUNSWICK, Ga. — Relief, yes. Rejoicing — that’s more complicated.
The murder convictions of three white men who gunned down Ahmaud Arbery on a suburban street in Georgia last year drew broad approval across the United States on Wednesday, even from many conservatives who agreed that justice demanded the trio be held accountable for chasing and killing an unarmed 25-year-old Black man who was running through their neighborhood in shorts and a T-shirt.
From a courtroom in the Deep South, where 11 of 12 jurors were white, it seemed common ground had been found after nearly two years of a national reckoning on race. But while the verdicts in Brunswick were widely applauded, many saw an America still grievously beset by injustice, with an uncertain path to genuine reconciliation even as the offenders were led away in handcuffs and Arbery’s family celebrated a victory that had eluded others like them for generations.
The guilty findings against Gregory McMichael, his son, Travis McMichael, and neighbor William “Roddie” Bryan came at a particularly fraught moment — a backdrop of relentless political rancor, exacerbated by exhaustion over a deadly pandemic that has been grinding through and reshaping America like an unending trauma.
A time of anger, despair and little repose. Then again, on this Thanksgiving eve, when a mother’s anguish was eased in head-bowed prayer and joy echoed from the courthouse steps, many saw a day of satisfying vindication.
Outside the Glynn County courthouse, not far from the salt marshes and rivers that thread around this city of old Victorian homes, retired city government clerk Delores Polite beamed.
“I was skeptical because of old history,” said the 65-year-old community activist, whose ancestors were auctioned as slaves in the port of Charleston, South Carolina, 130 miles up the Atlantic coast. “But this is new history.”
For a case whose details unfolded in such wrenchingly intimate fashion, its scope was nonetheless seen as far-reaching, much like the police murder of George Floyd, whose death galvanized the Black Lives Matter movement. David Anderson, a Black megachurch pastor in Columbia, Maryland, said that to him, the outcome encompassed “much more than Arbery.”
“Our nation is sorely divided on race,” said Anderson, 55, an author and radio host who leads the Bridgeway Community Church, a multiracial congregation with a large Black membership. The guilty verdicts, he said, “give us that small glimpse of hope, that justice can roll down like water.”
The recent acquittal of Kyle Rittenhouse, the teenager who killed two people with an AR-15 rifle he brought to a tense protest scene in Wisconsin, was a far more polarizing case than this one. Rittenhouse was lionized by the right and feted by former President Donald Trump, but support for Arbery’s assailants was much more muted, even among self-described conservatives.