Tuesday, 22 February 2022
There was a verdict in the federal hate crimes trial of the three men who hunted down and shot Ahmaud Arbery in Brunswick, Georgia. The three men were convicted of all charges. This trial followed a state trial where the men were convicted of murdering Arbery. Neither trial would have taken place had it not been for Ms. Wanda Cooper-Jones, Ahmaud Arbery’s mother.
After Mr. Arbery was killed in 2020, county officials at all levels attempted to block prosecution of the case which involved a former police officer and investigator for the DA’s office. The DA was one of the first people Greg McMichaels phoned after the killing. It is almost certain that no arrests would have even been made in the case had it not been for a video of the shooting released by Greg McMichaels.
The defense attorney for Greg McMichaels argued in the hate crimes trial that the release of the video proved that the three men didn’t have “consciousness of guilt.” What it in fact proved was that Greg McMichaels and the other two men were such blind racists they actually thought the video would exonerate them. As one of the witnesses for the men said during the state trial, it didn’t work out like they had intended.
When the video of the killing went viral, the state of Georgia stepped in and took the case out of the hands of Glynn County law enforcement officials. A prosecutor for the State of Georgia won the case not because of the local case, but despite it.
At every step of the way, Ms. Wanda Cooper-Jones was pushing and advocating and arguing. It is thanks to her that the case was ever prosecuted.
Then, after winning at the state level, the Department of Justice was to try the three men for perpetrating a hate crime, for murdering Mr. Arbery because he was black. But, secretly, behind the back of the Arbery family, federal prosecutors made a plea deal with the three defendants. The plea deal would have allowed them to spend their sentences in a federal prison instead of the hell hole of state incarceration.
Again, Ms. Wanda Cooper-Jones has to plead, argue, advocate, and in her own words “beg” for the plea agreement to be thrown out. Even after hearing her plead in court with the judge, prosecutors continued with their pressure on the judge to accept the plea agreement. But, Ms. Cooper-Jones prevailed. The judge set the date for the trial.
In the previous state trial, a tactical decision was made to leave any discussion of race out of the case. The hateful social media and personal statements of the three men were not entered into evidence. By securing a trial, however, this evidence was brought out in front of the public and another jury. The men were convicted again, in the deep South, where some people at least understand at a gut level the violence and cruelty and pain such language involves.
But, even after having to fight for two years for the simple dignity of a trial for her son’s killers, Ms. Wanda Cooper-Jones came out of the courtroom thinking about others, others who had not received justice. Standing in front of the Court House, she blasted the DOJ and their prosecutors who deceived her, tried to make a plea deal behind her back and even after hearing her pleas, continued to ignore her. She named names. She was not afraid to remind people just how hard it had been to secure these convictions. And, she was fighting for other families, other families who had been denied justice.