BISHOPS in the United States have welcomed a majority-white jury’s verdict of guilty on three white men who murdered Ahmaud Arbery, a Black man of 25. But the case, they say, shows that the US justice system is still deficient.
Mr Arbery was shot in broad daylight while jogging in Brunswick on 23 February last year (Comment, 15 May 2020; News, 3 July 2020). His attackers were a father and son, Gregory and Travis McMichael, who chased him in a pick-up truck and shot him, claiming that they were carrying out a citizen’s arrest on him for a suspected burglary. A neighbour, William Bryan, recorded the attack, joined in the chase, and ran Arbery down with his truck.
The men were not arrested and brought to trial until video footage of the incident emerged, causing a public outcry. A 12-strong jury at the Glynn County courthouse, Georgia, found the three men guilty of murder, aggravated assault, false imprisonment, and criminal intent to commit a felony. Crowds, some of whom held Black Lives Matter signs, cheered as the verdict was announced.
Clergy have also been a daily presence outside the courthouse for the duration of the trial (News, 12 November).
The Episcopal Bishops of Georgia and Atlanta, and the Bishop of the Southeastern Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, said in a joint statement: “We give thanks for the dedicated work of the judge and jurors who served in a charged atmosphere with intense public scrutiny. Any verdict arrives too late to offer true justice in this case. Ahmaud Arbery is dead, and the court cannot return him to his family. Nonetheless, this moment is an important one.
“We prayed for the court to bring earthly justice, and the court has acted. But it took a public outcry and the release of video of the incident to force the system into action. The three men who are now convicted of crimes were initially shielded from facing their accusers in court.
“Until we can bring equity to the system that initially protected them, the rest of us will not have done what we can to create the just society for which we long. Our country has not dealt with the racism built into the system at its founding and perpetuated until this day.”
In the year and more since the murder, more than 75 clergy from all denominations, as well as leaders of Jewish and Muslim congregations, have come together as Glynn Clergy for Equity to call for peace and unity, and to stand as a witness against racism. The Episcopal Church nationally and the diocese of Georgia have contributed funding. “Their clarion call for justice after the video surfaced was critical in getting attention to this case,” the bishops in Georgia said.
“They followed this call by engaging in candid conversations that drew them together, even as other forces could have deepened divisions. . . They have witnessed to the dream of God: all of us becoming beloved community, not divided by ethnicity, but united in our common humanity.”
In February, the three men are to be tried in a separate federal case for racially motivated hate crimes; it was reported that the men used racial expletives while Mr Arbery lay dying. The men deny racism.
The Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church in the United States, the Most Revd Michael Curry, said in a separate statement on Wednesday that “while nothing will return Ahmaud Arbery to his loved ones, our justice system has held three men accountable for hunting down and killing a Black man who did nothing but go for a run in a predominantly white neighborhood, and I give thanks for this outcome. . .
“We cannot rest until these modern embodiments of terror against any human child of God are no more. We must labor on for racial healing and reconciliation in each of our hearts — and in our society. We must reimagine and advocate against systems, laws, and policies that encourage vigilantism and diminish human life, because all people should be treated with the dignity, love, and respect that is due children of God.”