Relief, emotion and a sense of hope came flooding out in Brunswick, on social media, from the White House and across the US as the nation came to terms with the Ahmaud Arbery verdicts and their place in history.
Outside the Georgia courthouse, a joyous, flag-waving crowd repeatedly chanted: “Ahmaud Arbery! Say his name!” as the Arbery family, surrounded by their attorneys, emerged to address them.
“It’s been a long fight, it’s been a hard fight,” said Arbery’s mother, Wanda Cooper-Jones.
“To tell you the truth I never saw this day. Back in 2020 I never thought this day would come … Thank you to those who marched, the ones who prayed, thank you.”
Cooper-Jones said her son “will now rest in peace”.
Arbery’s father, Marcus Arbery, thanked his son’s mother, and the activists and lawyers who helped draw attention to his son’s case.
“God put us all together to make this happen,” he said. “We conquered that lynch mob. We got that lynch mob … Today is a good day.”
Ben Crump, the civil rights attorney representing the Arbery family, said although the outcome of the case was welcome, Ahmaud Arbery’s parents were still grieving their son.
“Even though this is not a celebration, it’s a reflection. The spirit of Ahmaud defeated the lynch mob,” he told the courthouse crowd.
In a statement released immediately after the verdicts were read, Crump also assessed the power of the moment. “After nearly two years of pain, suffering, and wondering if Ahmaud’s killers would be held to account, the Arbery family finally has some justice,” he said.
“The violent stalking and lynching of Ahmaud Arbery was documented on video for the world to witness. But yet, because of the deep cracks, flaws and biases in our systems, we were left to wonder if we would ever see justice.
“Today certainly indicates progress, but we are nowhere close to the finish line. Keep marching. Keep fighting for what is right. And never stop running for Ahmaud.”
From the Oval Office, Joe Biden reflected on Arbery’s killing as a “devastating reminder of how far we have to go in the fight for racial justice in this country” but saw the trial’s outcome as a beacon of hope.
“We must recommit ourselves to building a future of unity and shared strength, where no one fears violence because of the color of their skin,” the president said in a statement.
“My administration will continue to do the hard work to ensure that equal justice under law is not just a phrase emblazoned in stone above the supreme court, but a reality for all Americans.”
Outside court, civil rights leader the Rev Al Sharpton told the cheering crowd: “Brunswick, Georgia, will go down in history as the place where criminal justice took a different turn. Decades from now they’ll be talking about a boy called Ahmaud Arbery who taught this nation what justice looks like.”
Bernice King, daughter of the civil rights icon Dr Martin Luther King Jr, welcomed the verdict on Twitter but noted: “#AhmaudArbery should be here.”
“The McMichaels and Bryan are indeed guilty of taking his life for no other reason than for him being Black. I’m praying for and thinking of Ahmaud’s family, including his mother, Wanda Cooper-Jones, who in this moment, is still missing her son,” she wrote.
The Rev Raphael Warnock, a Democratic US senator for Georgia and a Baptist pastor, echoed her words. “This verdict upholds a sense of accountability, but not true justice,” he said in a tweet.
“True justice looks like a Black man not having to worry about being harmed – or killed – while on a jog, while sleeping in his bed, while living what should be a very long life. Ahmaud should be with us today.”
By contrast, politicians and commentators on the right were noticeably silent in the immediate aftermath of the trial’s conclusion.
There was no early statement from Donald Trump, the former president who was last Friday quick to celebrate the acquittal of 18-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse for killing two men and injuring another at a racial justice protest last year in Wisconsin, nor from any of the Republican congress members who are vying with each to accept Rittenhouse as an intern.
In his remarks to the Brunswick crowd, Sharpton cited the case of Trayvon Martin, a 17-year-old unarmed Black youth shot dead by the white neighborhood watch captain George Zimmerman in Florida in 2012. Zimmerman was acquitted a year later after presenting a self-defense argument similar to the McMichaels, in a verdict that sparked widespread outrage.
“Let it be clear that almost 10 years after Trayvon, God used Wanda and Marcus’s son to prove that if we kept marching and kept fighting, we would make you hear us,” he said.
Sybrina Fulton, Trayvon’s mother, celebrated the Arbery verdicts on Twitter with a “Guilty!! Justice4AhmaudArbery” graphic.