Voices: Ahmaud Arbery’s killers were convicted. But that’s not proof the system works

Three white men are charged with the murder of African American Ahmaud Arbery (Getty Images)
Three white men are charged with the murder of African American Ahmaud Arbery (Getty Images)

Today, three white men were found guilty of the murder of Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year-old Black man.

In February 2020, Travis McMichael, 35; his father, Gregory McMichael, 65; and their neighbor William Bryan, 52, all chased Arbery down in a “citizen’s arrest” while he was out for a jog in their neighborhood. They claimed they mistook him for someone who had robbed homes days before. McMichael, McMichael and Bryan ultimately shot Arbery for doing nothing more than his daily exercise, killing him on the spot. All three men now face life sentences.

Arbery’s death is considered by many — including me — to be a lynching, a killing carried out as a result of racist hate. The McMichaels and Bryan have also been indicted on other charges, including hate crimes and attempted kidnapping, for which they are expected to stand trial in February.

For many, today feels like justice. And I prefer it to the alternative: a complete lack of accountability like what we recently saw in the Rittenhouse case, where Kyle Rittenhouse was found not guilty of murder after he shot three men at a racial justice protest. Now, Rittenhouse is free, dining with Donald Trump, and claiming to support Black Lives Matter.

So yes, I’d definitely prefer Arbery’s killers be in jail. But increasingly, there is nothing that can appease my anger and frustration.

This hateful country is ravenous, and it sustains itself on the blood and labor of its most vulnerable people. It is our mistreatment that helps the economy remain a crushing wheel, that helps them maintain the veneer of freedom and prosperity that allows people to believe in the American Dream. And every now and then, they sacrifice one of their own to appease the storm they know is coming.

We live in times of great social change and endless potential. We live in a society that is demanding equity, that is taking to the streets to save their own lives and the lives of others. We live in an era of uprisings. And we are rising up because we know, as this country proves to us time and time again, that we will get no justice here unless we continue to loudly demand it.

Where the Arbery trial was concerned, the racism was obvious from the beginning. On Thursday, Travis McMichael admitted during cross-examination that the unarmed 25-year-old didn’t speak or threaten them before the trio killed him.

“He was just running,” McMichael testified in Glynn County Superior Court. Prosecutors also revealed a long pattern of racism in the three men, including the use of racial slurs to describe Arbery after they’d killed him. And even the details around what happened immediately after Arbery was shot are shocking: A former prosecutor was charged for misconduct over her handling of the case back in September.

Today, we are witnessing a paltry sacrifice to the flames, a corrupt system’s weak hope that one win will pause our marches, pause our uprisings, and make us hope for justice we will never receive. But the system as it exists right now is made only for heartache and oppression. We can’t look at this verdict and truthfully say this is proof that the system works. We have to continue to work to deconstruct a system that means accountability only happens every so often, and comes as a surprise when it does.

The simple fact is that justice won’t make it here on its own. It will never come unless we make it come. Our anger must rage on, until the entire system has been fed to the flames.