Travis McMichael, Greg McMichael and William “Roddie” Bryan were found guilty on Wednesday in the 2020 killing of Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year-old Black man gunned down by the three white men while jogging in their neighborhood.
Video of Arbery’s murder leaked online two months after he died, and contributed to a nationwide reckoning on racial justice sparked by high-profile killings of several other Black Americans last year.
Lawmakers and political figures from both sides of the aisle reacted to the verdict. Many applauded the verdict, with some acknowledging the fight for racial justice is far from over.
President Joe Biden said in a statement that Arbery’s death was a “devastating reminder of how far we have to go in the fight for racial justice in this country,” adding in part: “While the guilty verdicts reflect our justice system doing its job, that alone is not enough. Instead, we must recommit ourselves to building a future of unity and shared strength, where no one fears violence because of the color of their skin.”
“Mr. Arbery should be here today, celebrating the holidays with his mother, Wanda Cooper Jones, and his father, Marcus Arbery,” Biden added. “Nothing can bring Mr. Arbery back to his family and to his community, but the verdict ensures that those who committed this horrible crime will be punished.”
Vice President Kamala Harris similarly said Wednesday’s verdicts “send an important message, but the fact remains that we still have work to do.
“The defense counsel chose to set a tone that cast the attendance of ministers at the trial as intimidation and dehumanized a young Black man with racist tropes. The jury arrived at its verdicts despite these tactics,” she added. “Ahmaud Arbery was a son. He was a brother. He was a friend. His life had meaning. We will not forget him. We honor him best by continuing the fight for justice.”
Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, a Republican, said in a statement that the verdict confirmed Arbery was the “victim of a vigilantism that has no place in Georgia.”
“As legal efforts continue to hold accountable all who may be responsible, we hope the Arbery family, the Brunswick community, our state, and those around the nation who have been following his case can now move forward down a path of healing and reconciliation,” Kemp added.
Kemp’s statement possibly refers to a civil suit filed by Arbery’s mother on the anniversary of her son’s death in February of this year, which accused multiple law enforcement officials and a district attorney of failing to properly arrest and prosecute the McMichaels and Bryan at and after the scene of the crime.
It took over two months for either of the McMichaels or Bryan to be arrested, and the arrests only occured after video of the shooting was leaked online and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation took over the case from Glynn County police.
In the video, the McMichaels were seen after having grabbed guns and jumped in a pickup truck to pursue the 25-year-old Black man after seeing him running in their neighborhood outside the Georgia port city of Brunswick in February 2020.
In a 911 call placed before the shooting, Greg McMichael said to an operator: “I’m out here in Satilla Shores. There’s a Black male running down the street.”
In a statement released Wednesday, Georgia Sen. Raphael Warnock, a Democrat, said the verdict “upholds a sense of accountability, but not true justice.”
“True justice looks like a Black man not having to worry about being harmed—or killed—while on a jog, while sleeping in his bed, while living what should be a very long life,” Warnock added. “Ahmaud should be with us today.”
Fellow Georgian Rep. Buddy Carter, a Republican, said he believed the “right to a trial by a jury of your peers is fundamental to a free and fair society,” adding that “justice was served” with the verdict.
“I thank the jury, judge, and legal counsel for their commitment to our orderly system of justice,” Carter added. “I pray for the family of Ahmaud Arbery and hope that this verdict brings some much needed comfort ahead of the holiday season.”
The reckoning over racial injustice once again bubbled to the surface over the course of the trial — first when a defense attorney attempted to block “Black pastors” from the courtroom, and again when he compared actions supporting Arbery’s family, including a rally of Black pastors held outside the courthouse the day before, to a “public lynching” of the three white defendants.
The comments led to an influx of pastors and activists gathering in and around the courthouse this week, including the Rev. Al Sharpton, one of the original courtroom guests that drew the ire of the defense team.
“Let us, more than anything, thank the mother and father of Ahmaud. They lost a son, but their son will go down in history as one that proved that if you hold on, that justice can come,” Rev. Sharpton said to a group gathered outside the courthouse after the verdict was read. “And let the word go forth all over the world that a jury of eleven whites and one Black in the deep south stood up in the courtroom and said that Black lives do matter.”
The makeup of the jury was another flashpoint early on in the trial, as Superior Court Judge Timothy Walmsley acknowledged that “intentional discrimination” by attorneys for the three white defendants appeared to have shaped jury selection. But he said Georgia law limited his authority to intervene.
Arbery’s mother, Wanda Cooper-Jones, delivered an emotional statement after the verdict, saying in part: "To tell you the truth...I never thought this day would come. But God is good."
Civil rights attorney Ben Crump agreed that the verdict “certainly indicates progress,” but added that the fight for equality is “nowhere close to the finish line.”
“America, you raised your voices for Ahmaud,” Crump wrote in a statement. “Now is not the time to let them quiet. Keep marching. Keep fighting for what is right. And never stop running for Ahmaud.”
Responses to the verdict came from far beyond Georgia’s borders, as lawmakers from numerous states weighed in.
Florida Rep. Val Demings (D), who served as the first-ever female chief of the Orlando Police Department 2007-2011 released a statement saying "Ahmaud Arbery should be alive today, adding: “This tragedy should have never happened. I am keeping his family in my prayers. We must move forward together to dispel the shadows of our past and to ensure the safety and civil rights of every American."
Fellow Florida Democrat Rep. Charlie Crist, who is also running for state governor, agreed that “justice has been served in the death of Ahmaud Arbery.”
“For millions of Black Americans, Ahmaud's murder served as yet another tragic reminder of the frightening injustices that face people of color,” he added. “Vigilantism has no place in a civil society. We will continue to keep the Arbery family in our prayers and wish them comfort and strength through their tragic loss."
Florida’s Rep. Michele Rayner, also a Democrat, said the verdict was the “only appropriate conclusion to the Arbery family’s fight for justice.”
“I find it difficult to celebrate one victory of justice while numerous others are forgotten due to the corruption, cronyism and abuse of power in our justice system,” she added. “I hope that this verdict and his life are immortalized in our society as a reminder that our activism and calls for action worked. Everyone deserves the freedom to live out a healthy and full life and I remain committed to seeking reforms which will ensure that."
Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif, chair of the House Intelligence Committee, also tweeted his support for the Arbery family.
“Our justice system too often fails Black individuals. But today, truth prevailed and Ahmaud Arbery’s murderers are being held to account,” Schiff wrote. “We know this verdict won’t erase the grief of Ahmaud’s family and friends. But I pray it will bring comfort to know justice was served."
Bill DeBlasio, New York City mayor and former Democratic candidate for president, wrote: Ahmaud Arbery went for a run and never returned home because of the actions of three racist white men.
“This verdict can never undo the anguish the Arbery family has experienced, but at least justice has prevailed,” he added. “Thank you to the jury for holding these dangerous men accountable."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.