On November 24, 2021, a jury found three White men guilty of killing Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year-old Black man. While many in the African American community applauded the verdict, they still had reservations about whether they would be sentenced appropriately for the crime.
Fast forward to January 7th, and everyone waited with bated breath to hear Chatham County Superior Court Judge Timothy Walmsley sentence Travis McMichael and his father, Gregory McMichael, to life in prison without the possibility of parole, while sentencing William “Roddie” Bryan to life in prison with the possibility of parole.
Now, be completely honest!
How many African Americans rejoiced, and breathed a sigh of relief at the same time, upon hearing the judge read the guilty verdicts delivered by the jury in the McMichaels and Bryan murder trial and the sentencing of these three murderers who were caught on video?
So, after the recent verdicts and sentencing of the perpetrators of these heinous crimes, do African Americans now believe that the American justice system has become fairer and more equitable to African Americans?
Prior to the McMichaels and Bryan murder trial, the African American community found itself dealing with this same emotional roller coaster, as the nation waited on the verdict in the murder trial of former Minnesota police Derek Chauvin.
On April 20, 2021, Chauvin was convicted of murdering George Floyd, after he callously lodged his knee in the handcuffed man’s neck for over nine minutes on video camera.
Then, several months later, on June 25th, Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill sentenced Chauvin to 22 ½ years in prison for the heinous and inhumane crime.
For so long in this country, countless law enforcement decisions and court verdicts have yielded outcomes that have not only crushed the souls of African American families whose loved ones were unjustly targeted and murdered, but they have also broken the hearts of the African American community as a whole.
From Emmitt Till to Trayvon Martin to George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery, so many African Americans have fallen victim to the crime of being targeted while Black in this country.
The African American community has found itself having to mourn the loss of one of their own, while hoping and praying that justice would be served for that victim in the justice system.
Time after time, however, the African American community has had its heart broken, left wanting something that every American citizen wants—true justice.
Think about George Zimmerman, who was charged with targeting and killing unarmed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin as he walked back home from the store. Zimmerman was found not guilty, and it sent shockwaves throughout the African American community and the country.
The American justice system has historically been “hit-or-miss” when it comes to authentic and true justice being afforded to African Americans. Truth be told, it has mostly been “miss” when it comes to justice for Black people. Whether driving while Black or jogging down the street while Black, African Americans are regularly targeted and stereotyped like very few other races in this country. Day after day we hear of stories where a Black person was exonerated for a crime they never committed, amongst other travesties. So many African Americans have ended up dead and their families have received a financial settlement because they were targeted and murdered because of their Black skin. It has and continues to be a huge problem.
Famed African American civil rights activist, author and editor, W.E.B. Du Bois once said, “A system cannot fail those it was never meant to protect.”
That still applies to modern times and having two recent jury verdicts and sentencing outcomes provide some level of justice and closure, it still doesn’t overshadow the fact that George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery should not have been targeted and murdered in the first place.
This is not the first time in American history that African Americans have been targeted and murdered without any true accountability.
How many of the inhumane and barbaric actions that took place, such as slavery and lynching, led to the deaths of thousands of Black people by evil individuals who were never held accountable for their cowardly and wretched acts?
Keep in mind that although there were established laws in place for those caught or charged with committing those crimes, hardly anyone was ever convicted, and most of the murderers had the freedom to kill any Black person they wanted without fear of being held accountable.
One of the primary concerns that continued to come up as it related to the Chauvin murder trial and the murder trial involving McMichaels and Bryan, was the fear of an all-white jury or majority white jury, considering the history of all-white jury selection and verdicts in the past.
The Chauvin jury was made up of nine jurors identifying themselves as White, four as Black, and two as multiracial. Chauvin was found guilty.
The McMichaels and Bryan jury was vastly different. Out of the 12 jurors selected, 11 were white and only one was Black. The McMichaels and Bryan were all found guilty.
So, both juries got it right, but that hasn’t always been the case, so where do we go from here?
Bishop Desmond Tutu, who recently passed away, once said, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.”
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once said that “In the End, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”
As we remember the life and legacy of Bishop Tutu and as we approach the MLK federal holiday commemorating his life and legacy, we should all take a moment to thank the jurors who chose not to be silent and who decided to do the right thing by holding these criminals accountable for the crimes they committed against these Black men.
America needs more of those types of citizens to do the right thing and hold people accountable, regardless of race. The African American community would greatly appreciate it.