This story was published on November 24, 2021 and updated on February 22, 2022
A jury found that the three men convicted of murdering Ahmaud Arbery were motivated by racism, thereby violating a federal hate crime statute.
The verdict comes months after Abery’s killers — Gregory McMichael; his son, Travis McMichael; and neighbor William Bryan — were found guilty of murder in November 2021, shortly after Kyle Rittenhouse was acquitted for shooting several demonstrators protesting the police maiming of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Washington.
Prosecutors found ample evidence that the three men espoused violently racist views about Black people in the days and months leading up to their crimes, bolstering the characterization of Arbery’s death as a 21st century lynching.
Evidence presented to the jury included text messages in which Bryan referred to his daughter’s boyfriend, a Black man, using a racial slur.
A woman from New York testified that the elder McMichael went on a racist rant about Black people when she encountered him on a visit to Brunswick, Georgia. McMichael’s son, Travis, referred to Black people as “subhuman savages.”
“The evidence in this case will prove that if Ahmaud Arbery had been white, he would have gone for a jog, checked out a house under construction and been home in time for Sunday supper,” said Bobbi Bernstein, a lawyer with the Justice Department’s civil rights division.
Arbery’s murder was followed, in quick succession, by the slayings of several other Black Americans, including Breonna Taylor, Daunte Wright, and George Floyd, sparking widespread Black Lives Matter protests and renewed conversation about police brutality and racism.
Though the legal characterization of Arbery’s murder as a hate crime is encouraging, it certainly doesn’t heal the damage done.
“As a mom, I will never heal,” said Wanda Cooper-Jones, his mother. “[The jury] gave us a small sense of victory, but we will never get victory because Ahmaud is dead.”
Cooper-Jones also called out the Department of Justice for offering her son’s murderers a plea deal. “I spoke to [Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke] and the lead attorney, Tara Lyons, begging them to please not take this plea deal. They ignored my cry.”