EDITORIAL: Arbery saga: Slow progress at great cost

·2 min read

Dec. 3—The conviction on murder charges of three men in Georgia last week restores a measure of faith in the law. It should also give pause to would-be vigilantes.

Those who would play cop, judge, jury and executioner might have been emboldened by the exoneration in Kenosha, Wisconsin, earlier last month of Kyle Rittenhouse, the teenager who shot two people to death and wounded a third during a social justice protest in Kenosha last year.

Rittenhouse said that he had gone to Kenosha armed with an AR-15 style rifle to protect property from protesters.

While it's difficult to understand, from a commonsense view, how Rittenhouse escaped prosecution for any crime related to the Kenosha shootings, the Georgia case seemed even more clear-cut.

Essentially, the three men — son Travis McMichael, dad Gregory McMichael and their neighbor, William Bryan — chased down and shot to death Ahmaud Arbery, an unarmed Black man who dared to jog in broad daylight in the largely white neighborhood of Satilla Shores outside the coastal city of Brunswick.

The three now face possible sentences of life imprisonment.

Arbery was shot to death Feb. 23, 2020, but no arrests were made until a video — made by Bryan — of the assault was released months later and widely viewed by the public.

The McMichaels and Bryan claimed that they believed Arbery looked like a suspect in several recent break-ins in the Satilla Shores area. Arbery lived just two miles from the neighborhood and often jogged in the area.

The jury chosen for the trial was comprised of 11 white people and one Black person, raising questions about the fairness of the selection process in a county where the population is 27% Black.

Regardless of its composition, the jury did the right thing by convicting all three participants in the heinous crime.

Outcry over the case prompted Georgia to adopt its first hate crimes law and to repeal a controversial Civil War-era statute that gave broad latitude to civilians to pursue and arrest suspected felons. Ironically, the McMichaels and Bryan cited the statute in their defense.

Arbery's death is a tragic testament to the nefarious and enduring influence of racism in this country, irritated by laws that encourage carrying of deadly weapons and an overzealous sense of mercenary entitlement.

Resolution of the Arbery case also gives cautious hope. A white jury in the Deep South chose conviction of three white men in the killing of a Black man, and the Georgia legislature finally, after more than two centuries, woke up to the fatal reality of race-based hate crimes.

But these resounding questions perpetually persist: Why is progress so very slow? And why must the costs be so very high?

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