Ahmaud Arbery is not here, but he heard the verdicts. He knows, in that place where his restless soul resides, that his death has been avenged.
An overwhelming white jury in Georgia found that three white men had stalked a Black man for no legitimate reason, gunned him down and then tried to justify their actions under the false argument of “enforcing the law.” That is weighty, that is substantial, and that matters.
Others will tie this to race, and only the most jaded or ignorant would deny that if Ahmaud were white, he would likely still be alive. The 9-1-1 tape caught one of his killers saying that the problem they had was a “Black man” running around the neighborhood. Hannah Arendt wrote about the banality of evil, and that comment is a reflection of exactly that principle: the color of Ahmaud’s skin was the “problem” for men who could only see him as a threat. His existence, his being, was the “evil” they perceived, and there was nothing that the victim could have done to avoid the death sentence his killers marked him for.
Beyond the issue of race, there is the fact that a man who did nothing wrong was targeted for extermination because three narcissists decided their right to play lawman was more important than his right to life. These pathetic, overweight, inarticulate Marshall Dillon wannabes arrogated to themselves the privilege of omniscience. They decided that their ability to figure out what was criminal or legal, what was normal or an aberration, what was acceptable or beyond the pale, was absolute. And they used their guns to underline that point.
The fact that the jury spent less than a day deliberating shows how little daylight there was between a just verdict and reasonable doubt. There was no doubt that Travis McMichael stalked Arbery, and that race was at least part of the reason. There was no doubt that the other two men, including his father, were so assured of their infallibility and secure in their privilege that they filmed themselves killing a man, thinking the video evidence would be seen as justification for their rogue actions. They probably even expected to be praised for their bravery and initiative once the video was made public and shared on social media.
They might even have thought they’d be heralded as heroes on national television.
Well, that video was shared, and they did make it into the national spotlight. The thing is, they never expected to be on the wrong end of a jury, a judge, a prosecutor and public opinion. And that is part of the tragedy.
What is so clear to me and to millions of Americans appears to have been beyond the comprehension of Ahmaud’s killers. And the fact that they could grow up and function in that echo chamber of justification, that they could even try and fight the charges against them as if they were entitled to take this man’s life as opposed to seeking a plea (which might not have been forthcoming, truth be told) is evidence that there is something deeply broken in our society.
But in a moment of grace on the day before Thanksgiving, we saw that even the broken edges of society can be smoothed down with the application of justice. The verdicts of “guilty” on so many of the most serious charges in this case are a message that carries beyond that Georgia courtroom. They are a sign that juries usually get it right, even though we accuse them of being biased because of a racial, class or gender imbalance. And when you take this in conjunction with the verdict handed down in Kyle Rittenhouse, you also see how juries can withstand even the most oppressive intimidation from the media and nihilistic dissidents in society, and come to the right conclusion.
We all mourn the death of Ahmaud Arbery. But with these verdicts, we have found a way to have faith in the system of justice. Refuse to let the pundits who get paid spin partisan fables and fairy tales. Refuse to let them convince you that this verdict wasn’t powerful, and that it wasn’t enough. It was, and it will continue to be, just as the Rittenhouse verdict with which it will always be twinned will be a tribute to the virtue of 12 men and women, endowed with the superpowers of the Constitution.
This was a November to give thanks.
Christine Flowers is an attorney and a columnist for the Delaware County Daily Times, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org