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Relief sets in for Arbery's family, community after guilty verdicts

Shaddi Abusaid, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on

Published in News & Features

BRUNSWICK, Ga. — For Wanda Cooper-Jones, the quest for justice after her son’s death was an arduous journey.

When Ahmaud Arbery was killed in February of last year, local authorities looked the other way. Despite having the cellphone video of the 25-year-old being chased down by three white men and shot in the road, Glynn County police did not make any arrests.

The night of the shooting, an investigator called Cooper-Jones and said her son was killed by a homeowner while he was committing a burglary. She immediately knew something was off. In the weeks that followed, the grieving mother demanded answers, rallied her community and sparked a crusade for justice that swept the globe.

On Wednesday, 21 months and a day after her son was killed, Cooper-Jones wept in court as the men responsible were convicted by a jury of 11 white people and one Black man.

“I still can’t believe it,” she told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Friday. “I’m still in disbelief that we finally got justice for Ahmaud.”

Those guilty verdicts brought a palpable sense of relief to this coastal Georgia town. But the demonstrators who stood outside the courthouse for five weeks are gone now. So are the dozens of news vans that were parked nearby as people across the country anxiously followed the trial from their living rooms.

 

For many, the convictions of Travis McMichael, his father Greg, and their neighbor, William “Roddie” Bryan, felt like a weight was lifted off their shoulders. Others, including Cooper-Jones, say there’s still a long way to go in the nation’s fight for racial justice.

Arbery’s death thrust Glynn County into the national spotlight. It also brought the community together and sparked what his mother called meaningful change. Cooper-Jones noted the overhaul of Georgia’s citizen’s arrest law earlier this year, the passing of a state hate-crimes statute and the indictment of former District Attorney Jackie Johnson, who was ousted by voters and later arrested over her handling of the case.

“That alone shows that his legacy will bring about change and help in holding people accountable for their bad decisions,” she said. “I really think that Ahmaud’s legacy will be change — change and accountability.”

Fletcher Holmes, 64, was out for his daily bike ride when he heard Wednesday’s news. The lifelong Brunswick resident had followed the case since the beginning, but he didn’t know the jury had reached a verdict until he saw hundreds of people chanting, crying and clinging to one another near the courthouse steps.

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