A jury in Brunswick, Ga., found all three defendants guilty of murder Wednesday for chasing and killing Ahmaud Arbery while he was out on a run in February 2020.
Faith leaders across the country showed gratitude for the verdict while noting the grief for Arbery’s family and the work of justice still to be done.
“[Ahmaud Arbery] should be here,” Bernice King, a minister and head of the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change, tweeted. “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.”
“My hope is renewed in a just God but we must not forget that [Ahmaud Arbery’s] life has been lost to an injustice that this court can never correct,” Rev. Kelly Brown Douglas, dean of Episcopal Divinity School at Union Seminary in New York City, tweeted. “Another Black mother is sitting down at Thanksgiving without her son.”
Travis McMichael, 35, was found guilty on nine charges, including malice murder, felony murder, aggravated assault, and false imprisonment. His father Gregory McMichael, 65, and William “Roddie” Bryan, 52, were also found guilty of felony murder, aggravated assault, and false imprisonment.
On Feb. 23, 2020, Arbery, a 25-year-old Black man, had been jogging through a mostly white neighborhood in Brunswick, a coastal city about 80 miles south of Savannah, when the McMichaels and Bryan chased Arbery in their trucks before cornering him. In video footage, Arbery is seen reaching for McMichael’s gun; McMichael then shot him three times.
The case was brought to national attention later that year, when an attorney gave WGIG, a local radio station, a copy of Bryan's video of the shooting and the station posted it online. Atlantic Circuit's District Attorney Tom Durden immediately announced a grand jury investigation and Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp ordered the Georgia Bureau of Investigation to take the case.
The McMichaels argued that they believed Arbery had stolen from another house in the neighborhood and were attempting a citizen's arrest. Arbery had nothing on him besides his running clothes when McMichael murdered him.
“This verdict upholds a sense of accountability, but not true justice. 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,” Sen. Rev. Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.) said on Twitter.
Micah Herskind, an Atlanta-based abolitionist organizer, said in a tweet that he hopes “Ahmaud Arbery's family can begin to find whatever peace is possible, just as the Brunswick community and organizers across Southeast Georgia continue to work toward an end to state and state-sanctioned racial violence.”
During the trial, more evidence of racism was revealed, though much of it was not presented as evidence to the jury: Defense lawyers said the men were legally trying to stop Arbery under a now-repealed Georgia citizen's arrest law — a law codified in 1863, during the Civil War. The law was used by human traffickers to capture escaped enslaved people.
In another instance, which was not presented to the jury, GBI special agent Richard Dial said Bryan told his office that Travis McMichael uttered a racist slur as Arbery lay dying from shotgun wounds.
“Mr. Bryan said that after the shooting took place before police arrival, while Mr. Arbery was on the ground, that he heard Travis McMichael make the statement: f—ing n—er,” Dial said in testimony.
During the trial, Kevin Gough, the defense attorney for Bryan, complained about the presence of Black pastors in the courtroom.
“Obviously there’s only so many pastors they can have,” Gough told the judge. “And if they’re pastor is Al Sharpton right now that’s fine, but then that’s it.”
A day later, Gough again had concerns about the presence of civil rights leader Rev. Jesse Jackson who was in attendance sitting in the media overflow room alongside Arbery’s mother.
“How many pastors does the Arbery family have?” Gough asked. “I guess the next question is ‘who is next?’ Is Rev. [Sen. Raphael] Warnock going to show up?” The lawyer motioned for a mistrial over Jackson’s presence, but it was denied by the presiding judge, Timothy Walmsley.
In response to Gough’s comments, hundreds of clergy members from across the state and nation came to the courthouse on Nov. 18 for a prayer rally. There were an estimated 750 pastors who heeded Sharpton’s call to action, according to news reports. Together, they prayed for healing and promised to continue fighting for justice.
“No lawyer can knock us out. Because no matter where you are, God is there,” Sharpton said at the rally. “We are going to keep coming until we get justice.”
Reuters reporting contributed to this story.