These rulings represent a real blow against systemic racism in our criminal legal system. The judge allowed the defense to stack 11 white people and one black member who knows exactly why the defense is doing it. The defense pulled out all the hateful and disgusting racist metaphor of turning 25-year-old Arbery into a villain, even acting as if black priests sitting silently in the courtroom were some kind of ungodly mob. The defendants did what many like them had previously done: They declared that they pursued and shot an unarmed black man only because they were afraid for their lives, only because they were forced to do so while trying to protect their community from potential harm. . They declared that this black man was an alleged criminal. One of their lawyers explained that this black man was definitely not an angel. She said unashamedly that his nails were long and sloppy. No doubt he wasn’t the real victim, they just wanted us all to know.
The defense did it all in the heart of the Deep South in front of an almost white jury. On Wednesday, a nearly all-white jury in a case presided over by a white judge found three white men guilty as murderers we all knew they were long before the hammer struck. The nearly all-white jury is a disgrace to the defense in his belief that anti-black racism will help obtain a verdict of acquittal. It’s the kind of decision that should be replicated throughout our system, the kind we want to announce and celebrate, the kind we should hope to set a precedent. If that happened, black jurors would not be subject to continued discrimination during jury selection. If so, racist white men would think twice before arming themselves to take matters into their own hands as so many white racist mobs did at the height of the lynching era. If that were to happen, I would feel the need to arm myself for running on my own, even in nearly white neighborhoods.
We will not be able to convince every racist man that he has no right to act on the racism that runs through his veins. But we can make more of them think twice before picking up a gun to do so, at least in the most egregious cases like this one. This is the world we must create, a world that we must hope the nearly all-white jury in Georgia has helped make reality more realistic. There must have been a time in this country when this was not true.
I want to celebrate what appears to be a step forward, albeit a small one. But I’m so scared that for once in the way Derek Chauvin was pleaded guilty to the murder of George Floyd seems like a one-off all these months later. This ruling did not bring us any closer to real police reform as many of us had hoped. It was the high water mark of a year of protests that have since fizzled out only to be replaced by an overemphasis on trying to ensure young white children are never disturbed in the classroom when this country’s racist history. This momentum has been replaced by Republican politicians who have weaponized white fear to win votes and aid supposed centrists and moderates — even as it becomes clear by today that white fear is being used to press for anti-democratic measures that threaten to undo half a century of racial and democratic progress. He was replaced by one of our political parties who excused the violent attack on the US Capitol on January 6 and what that fateful day in American history means for our future.
And make no mistake, in our system you’re still more likely to be declared not guilty in self-defense cases if you’re white and your victim is black than the other way around, according to FBI data analyzed by the Marshall Project. One good judgment cannot undo deep systemic problems for decades. It will take thousands, perhaps tens of thousands, of cases like the one that just ended in Georgia to represent real change. But how likely is that?
A verdict in this case became possible only after the debunking of a prosecutor who was friendly with McMichaels and because Bryan inexplicably recorded part of the incident and hoped to “bring justice to the family and peace to the family.” It shouldn’t take all that to get a conviction for such an obvious and shameless murder. Despite this, I am happy to be breathing with Arbery’s family and other loved ones today, as everyone should. It’s been a tough few months. As a country, we needed this postponement. But if we pretend that now everything is fine, there is no doubt that we will come back here again.