‘There’s some hope for this country’: Philly civil rights advocate responds to Arbery verdict

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Ahmaud Arbery's father Marcus Arbery, center, his hugged by his attorney Benjamin Crump after the jury convicted Travis McMichael in the Glynn County Courthouse, Wednesday, Nov. 24, 2021, in Brunswick, Ga.  Greg McMichael and his son, Travis McMichael, and a neighbor, William

Ahmaud Arbery's father Marcus Arbery, center, his hugged by his attorney Benjamin Crump after the jury convicted Travis McMichael in the Glynn County Courthouse, Wednesday, Nov. 24, 2021, in Brunswick, Ga. Greg McMichael and his son, Travis McMichael, and a neighbor, William "Roddie" Bryan, charged in the death of Ahmaud Arbery were convicted of murder Wednesday in the fatal shooting that became part of a larger national reckoning on racial injustice. (AP Photo/Stephen B. Morton, Pool)

A jury in Georgia found three white men guilty in the murder of Ahmaud Arbery, a Black man who was fatally shot after going for a jog through their neighborhood in February 2020. WHYY host Cherri Gregg spoke to the Rev. Mark Kelly Tyler, co-director for the racial justice organization Power Live Free, and pastor of Mother Bethel AME Church in Philadelphia.

Note: This transcript has been edited for clarity.

Rev. Tyler, what are your reactions, sir?

Well, Cherri, this is a day of great relief, and I think I heard someone with the family say at the press conference that this would be a Thanksgiving like none other. There was a lot of concern that the ways in which the defense was going about drawing upon old racial tropes and stereotypes that the jury would move toward acquitting these three men. But the guilty verdicts suggest to us that at least there’s some hope for this country, even yet.

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And this comes on the heels of us getting the verdict in the Kyle Rittenhouse case. What was really at stake with the verdict in this trial and what we just heard today, three convictions on the murder charges? 

Well, I think what was at stake really was America’s word. So, you know, we proclaim to be one thing and very often we act in a very different way. And so if we have really turned the page, we’ve moved forward. If the South is not the old South anymore, then even after the defense moved to strike almost all Black jurors off the trial, even after the defense continually decried the presence of Black pastors, and used racial stereotypes. The fact that this jury could still come back with the just verdict, that says something, and I think that ultimately is really what was on trial in this case.

This was bigger than Ahmaud Arbery. But I don’t want to lose sight of the fact that this was also about Ahmaud Arbery. So as much as his parents, I’m sure, are relieved — I’ve been listening to them just now — tomorrow is Thanksgiving, and there’s going to be an empty seat at their table, and we should never forget that this justice will not bring him back.

Yeah, a lot of people call this a modern-day lynching. You know, three white men chasing a Black man as he ran in the neighborhood — an unarmed Black man — shot and killed him. And now they’re going to prison. Where do we go from here as far as the way you see it? What will we be focused on next? 

Well, first of all, we have to get to a place where all of the energy that we had to put into — and I say “we,” all of the different people in Georgia, the activists, and others, all last year when we protested it was George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery. We said those three names and all of that energy to even get this to go to trial.

Initially, the very first prosecutor basically dismissed the entire thing and said that there was nothing here, that there was no case, and was ready to let these three men just go on about their lives and take them at their word. We have to get to a place where everybody is given the right of due process, regardless of what they look like, the color of their skin, or anything else. And we’re not there yet.

This could have easily gone the other way, and the Arbery family would have been like so many others who did not receive justice. We can’t pour into the streets for every single case like this. And so we need a justice system that checks itself from the very beginning where people can have trust in it.

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I mean, one of the things they did in the state of Georgia was to repeal the citizen’s arrest law. Should we be checking on the types of laws that would have possibly even allowed these three men to get off on this? Luckily, they did not, but it could. And in other states, we just don’t know. 

Yeah, we have to change those laws, but we also have to change the attitude. There’s been an attitude in this country since the early 1800s that said that basically there is no law when it comes to Black people that any white man or any white woman is bound to respect. And that was at play in this, that, you know, “We’re white, you’re Black. We told you to stop. We’re not in any authority, but because we told you to stop, we have a gun, you have to stop and do what we say.” You can’t legislate that out. That’s going to take some real work to get that part out. But we can begin by getting rid of all of those laws, like the citizen arrest laws.

Does this alleviate some of the racial tension that we could all feel building as this trial continued? 

Well, I’d say for the moment, but I would also remind people that while we receive justice now with George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery, that Breonna Taylor’s case is still one that people are still saying her name and rightfully so, that we need to continue to put pressure there in the state of Kentucky to make sure that her family also can have a sense of justice. I mean, we need to at least have a trial so that a jury can weigh all of the evidence for themselves.

Thank you very much. That was Rev. Mark Kelly Tyler. Have a happy Thanksgiving, sir, and thank you for your time.

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