‘A small level of justice.’ Charlotte activists react to Ahmaud Arbery trial verdict

·5 min read

When Charlotte activist Kendrick Cunningham found out Wednesday that three white men were convicted in the death of Ahmaud Arbery, he was relieved — but he wished it hadn’t happened in the first place.

“When I got the notification, I was like, ‘Wow,’” he said. “I was nervous — but I was hopeful.”

Arbery, a young Black man, was chased and killed last February in Georgia. Greg McMichael and son Travis McMichael pursued the 25-year-old with guns after seeing him running in Brunswick, Ga. Neighbor William Bryan joined them, recording cellphone footage of Travis McMichael fatally shooting Arbery.

Later, they told authorities that Arbery matched the description of a burglar, but the prosecution argued they had no evidence.

It took the jury about 10 hours to convict the three men of murder.

Arbery was one of several Black people killed by white people and police last year, leading to protests across the country, including Charlotte.

Last summer, Ahmaud Arbery was one of several names echoed by Charlotte protesters marching down uptown streets, and in May 2020, after the video of Arbery’s murder was released, the Charlotte NAACP organized a rally at Little Rock AME Zion Church.

At that rally, NAACP president Corine Mack called upon white Charlotteans to step up as allies for their Black neighbors. More than a year later, Mack says there’s more work to do.

“We need to expose exactly how white supremacy endangers all of our lives,” she said. “We have a responsibility to send a message: What has happened to Black people and other people in this country will not happen again.

“We will not go silently.”

Charlotte reacts

Mack was shopping for Thanksgiving dinner at Harris Teeter on Wednesday afternoon when her phone dinged.

The notification that popped up said that three men had been charged with murder in Arbery’s death, and she breathed a sigh of relief.

“Thank you, God,” she thought.

When she’s thought about Arbery the past year and a half, she can’t help but think back to another Black boy who was killed because he was seen by white people as dangerous: Emmett Till. While visiting the Mississippi Delta from Chicago, 14-year-old Till was abducted, brutally beaten and killed. The men who lynched him were acquitted in 1955, just months after his death.

“I always look at things from a larger scope, the historic scope of lynchings of Black men and women,” she said. “Too easily white men see Black boys as some danger… we are often demonized.

“This counts as a good step toward justice. But we have so much further to go.”

Charlotte Mayor Vi Lyles tweeted Wednesday afternoon that while “justice was served today… it does not bring Ahmaud back to his family.”

“I hope that as we spend time over the holidays with our families, we stop to think about the Arbery family and the thousands of families who are missing loved ones because of the racial injustices in this country,” the tweet reads. “As I said after similar trials, we must continue to push for change and continue to build a better country for all of us.”

ACLU organizer Kristie Puckett-Williams said while nothing is going to bring Arbery back, the convictions represent some “semblance of accountability.”

“Justice would be Arbery still being here,” she said. “That’s where I’m at with it.”

Puckett-Williams said it’s hard to feel good when the situation is bad all around.

“His parents still don’t have the benefit of having their son, and they’re disappearing people into a system that taxpayers maintain and does nothing to address the real issues that drove three white men to believe they had the authority to question, detain and ultimately assassinate a Black man,” she said.

“Having your life snuffed out because you refuse to respond to white supremacy… it’s indicative of where we are, where we’ve been and where we’ll continue to be until we have a real reckoning around racial and economic justice in this country.”

Arbery’s mother: ‘He will now rest in peace’ after verdict

Cunningham didn’t know what to expect after the Kyle Rittenhouse verdict last week. Rittenhouse, an 18-year-old who fatally shot two people during unrest in Wisconsin last year, was acquitted of all charges on Friday.

“People who have white supremacist values feel like they can get away with what they do because whenever it’s come to a judge, they’ve been able to escape,” he said. “This sets a new precedent and shows people if you support white supremacist values, you’re gonna be held responsible for it.”

Longtime activist Kass Ottley similarly thought about Rittenhouse on Wednesday.

“To be honest, when you look at the justice system… you have to look at what it’s founded on. It’s based on upholding white supremacy,” she said. “If you look at the Kyle Rittenhouse case, it’s clear they’re making a statement — that if you align yourselves with the Black Lives Matter movement, you can be killed in the street like a Black person and get no justice.”

Mack, too, said because of what happened last week, she’s doubly grateful for this win.

“Today, we had to have this verdict,” she said. “It’s for the entire country to understand that your whiteness is not going to give you a get out of jail pass.”

Charlotte Protests via Instagram said Wednesday that help is needed planning a candlelight vigil and march soon.

Mack said she’ll be thinking of Arbery’s family this Thanksgiving.

“I am happy they were able to take a sigh of relief today, all members of the Arbery family,” she said. “But they have Thanksgiving tomorrow, and though his spirit will be there, he will not be there. We need to remember this family is still in mourning and deeply traumatized.

“Today, they receive some small level of justice.”

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