While Tuesday’s hate crime convictions for the three men who murdered Ahmaud Arbery may have helped his loved ones inch closer to having some semblance of closure in the tragic, racist killing, civil rights leaders are cautioning people against confusing the verdicts for true justice.
The hate crime convictions for father and son Gregory and Travis McMichael and William “Roddie” Bryan came one day ahead of the second anniversary of the trio ambushing Arbery while he was out jogging in what’s been widely decried as a modern-day lynching.
The guilty verdicts also came less than two months after the three convicted murderers were given life sentences in prison, convictions that were not guaranteed given the current iffy state of the U.S. justice system. Instead, their prosecution has become more about accountability, something that is also not a given when there are white defendants.
“Ahmaud’s family can finally put this chapter behind them,” Ben Crump, the renowned civil rights attorney who represented Arbery family, said in a statement emailed to NewsOne. He demanded that their sentencing reflect the seriousness of their crimes and encouraged people to “continue to honor Ahmaud and make sure his death was not in vain.”
Ben Jealous, the president of People for the American Way, also placed a spotlight on “accountability” and credited the Department of Justice for pursuing a hate crime case.
“This is the kind of accountability we must have to address the ongoing terror of white supremacy that’s reigned in our country for hundreds of years, where Black people can be killed with impunity,” Jealous, the former president of the NAACP, said in a statement. “We must continue to fight for justice for every American who has been the victim of white domestic terrorism and the injustice it fosters.”
Calling the convictions “precedent-setting,” Rev. Al Sharpton said they should also effectively serve as a warning: “It sends a signal to the federal government and police departments nationwide that even after you are convicted of state charges, you can be convicted of racially motivated hate crimes.”
Expressing a similar sentiment, NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. Associate Director-Counsel Janai S. Nelson said the hate crime trial and convictions were especially needed in this case.
“Historically, the U.S. Department of Justice has often declined to prosecute hate crimes, and so the significance of this federal trial and subsequent convictions cannot be overstated,” Nelson said in a statement. “That the hate crime trial for Bryan and the McMichaels unearthed a litany of vile, racist remarks and deep racial animus directed at Black people is no surprise, but it brought into sharp focus the breadth and depth of the race-based hatred held by all three men involved in Mr. Arbery’s murder in a way that was previously unseen.”
Nelson added: “Our hearts go out to the Arbery family, and we hope this conviction provides them with a measure of closure.”
Damon T. Hewitt, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, described the convictions as part of a larger “process” that he said is necessary to sustain momentum in the legal and social justice movements.
“The outcome of the federal hate crimes trial in Georgia is essential, as it sends a critical message that vicious attacks of Black people will not be tolerated and that those who choose to engage in vigilante justice will be held accountable,” Hewitt said in a statement. “We hope that today’s verdict continues a process of racial reckoning. That reckoning must examine the full costs of a system that allows people to act on racist stereotypes and feel unencumbered in enforcing their own forms of vigilante justice.”
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