Howard Vestal, 78, of Dallas, a U.S. Air Force veteran and retired architect who volunteers with the Texas chapter of Gun Owners for Safety, called the verdict appropriate.
“Responsible gun ownership is the only kind of gun ownership we can tolerate in a democracy,” he said. “The people that shot and killed Arbery — there’s an intimidation factor to people carrying guns, even though it may be done lawfully. That’s a threat to all of us, to our democracy. Gun violence is getting closer and closer to touching all of us.”
For others, though, Arbery’s killing was a devastating illumination of how racial inequities render mundane activities a deadly risk. In Orangeburg, South Carolina, tears trickled down Justin Bamberg’s face as he heard the word “guilty” repeatedly intoned on live TV from the courthouse.
Bamberg, a 34-year-old Democratic state representative, has represented families in several high-profile cases after police shootings, including that of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, Lousiana, in 2016.
“Today is a solid day of progress for our country,” he said. “This is a verdict we have longed for.”
But Bamberg said that as a Black man, he did not feel any safer engaging in normal activities such as running on the street, as Arbery was doing when he was stalked and attacked.
Among many watching with horror from across the country and the world, the slaying of Arbery conjured up the brand of brutal violence that was long associated with the American South of generations past, replete with lynchings and repressive Jim Crow laws.
Yet in Brunswick, a small port city about 80 miles south of Savannah, Georgia, residents were likelier to say that their home had not traditionally been known for extreme racial violence.
Theawanza Brooks, 37, an aunt of Arbery who sat in the courthouse taking notes throughout the trial, said her nephew’s death stood out from anything she had experienced before. Growing up here and attending Brunswick High School, she said, she did not experience racism and never had a reason to think race was a factor in how she was treated.
“I was taught to love everyone,” said Brooks, who is an assistant manager of a retail store. “But this one stands out, because this is like a modern-day lynching from 400 years ago. To think that we were free of those times, and then for this to happen, it just kind of set me back mentally.”