Statement from Nancy Flake Johnson, president and CEO of the Urban League of Greater Atlanta, and the Latin American Association and AJC’s Atlanta Black Jewish Coalition, in response to the convictions on Nov. 24, 2021, of the three men in the murder of Ahmaud Arbery
Black communities and allies of other races, and various religions and creeds, took a collective sigh of relief and shed tears of gratitude today with the announcement that the three White men who chased down and murdered Ahmaud Arbery on Feb. 23, 2020, have been found guilty. They face life sentences without the possibility of parole for their actions.
The guilty verdict is at least some justice for Ahmaud Arbery, but we must not forget that his mother, father, siblings, and entire family lost someone they loved dearly. At the time of his death, he was looking forward to enrolling in South Georgia Technical College to become an electrician. Now, his death, along with the conviction of his killers, marks a time for us to recommit to insist on equal justice for all in our nation.
We must not let Ahmaud’s death, and that of so many others, be in vain. We must work together to insist on criminal justice reform and racial justice in policing. Other states must join Georgia in making hate crimes and vigilantism illegal. People who murder other people after provoking or manufacturing a danger, must not get away with a self-defense plea. They must pay the price with verdicts of Guilty. Guilty. Guilty. And sentences to match the crime.
Guilty verdicts in such cases have been nowhere near an assured outcome. History has taught us that White men all too often get off scot-free in crimes against people of color and religious minorities, including Jews, even when caught on video and audio acting illegally as law enforcement or armed vigilantes. In the Aubery case, a 25-year-old Black man incurred the wrath of vigilantes because he was jogging down the street and did not stop on their commands, then tried to defend himself when a stranger pointed a gun at him.
We also have learned to be wary of the outcome of a trial when the jury is all White or so. As in the case of Travon Martin. The teenager was gunned down on Feb. 26, 2012. The case sparked a cry across the nation for reforms in the criminal justice system. Trayvon’s armed killer got off with a self-defense plea even though he had been warned against vigilantism. And his young victim was only carrying a bag of Skittles.
We join Ahmaud Arbery’s family in expressing gratitude to the prosecutors and the all-White jury for the guilty verdicts. Their actions showed their recognition of Ahmaud Arbery as a human being whose life deserved respect. Their verdict was a resounding reminder that a Black man – indeed like people of all other races — deserves the presumption of innocence as he engages in an ordinary behavior — like jogging, driving, walking down the street, sitting in the park, protesting injustice, or finding themselves caught in infractions like having a broken taillight.
If this case sparks the sustained push for reform that Trayvon Martin’s death ignited yet sadly did not sustain – nor did George Floyd’s yet – then Ahmaud Arbery’s loved ones may be able to move even closer to the peace they deserve.