Brunswick, Ga. (CW69 News at 10 / TBEN) – Wanda Cooper-Jones never thought of living without her son Ahmaud Arbery.
But in the year since his assassination, that is his reality. She now spends her days thinking about him, visiting his gravestone, reflecting on her “little boy” and recounting the moment she received the call that the 25-year-old had died.
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Cooper-Jones said it was frustrating to wait for justice. The men accused of Arbery’s murder still do not have a trial date. However, she remains convinced that they will be doomed.
“It gives me a little boost that I have to stay strong and keep my mind sane,” Cooper-Jones said. “I want to be there when justice is done.”
Today marks a year since Arbery died after being chased and shot by Gregory and Travis McMichael while running in a neighborhood near Brunswick.
The McMichaels face murder charges and remain in jail without bail. William “Roddie” Bryan, who recorded cell phone video of Arbery’s death, has also been charged and is being held without bail.
Arbery’s death, which only gained national attention two months after his arrival, sparked outrage across the country.
He also renewed his efforts to dismantle systems, hold officials accountable, and repeal policies that have historically allowed vigilante violence against unarmed blacks.
Activists say if their search for justice in the Arbery case continues, there has been notable progress.
Georgia Governor Brian Kemp recently announced plans to repeal the Civil War-era Citizen Arrest Act; the South Georgia prosecutor, who did not make an arrest after Arbery’s death, was removed from his post in November; an Atlanta-area prosecutor is pursuing the case; and Kemp signed a hate crimes bill last year, sparked by outrage over Arbery’s death.
James Woodall, president of the Georgia NAACP, said these actions are critical to tackling what he says is the racist violence behind Arbery’s death.
“This one-year anniversary is very bittersweet because what could be done next was that we pushed the boundaries of the policy that continued to allow these acts of justice and racial violence and out of court, ”Woodall said. “We were able to identify exactly what we wanted.”
Woodall said Georgia’s NAACP advocated for the state to repeal the Citizen’s Arrest Act after Waycross District Attorney George Barnhill – the second prosecutor to oversee the investigation last year – had cited the statute to justify his decision not to blame the McMichaels for Arbery’s death.
State law allows individuals to arrest someone if they immediately know or have reasonable suspicion that the person has committed a crime. The McMichaels told police they believed Arbery was a suspect in the recent neighborhood break-ins and followed him.
Kemp presented a plan to replace the law with a bill that removes legal loopholes that could be used to justify vigilante violence. The new law provides specific allowances for business owners or employees who may detain someone who has committed theft in their establishment, private security guards and police officers who may make arrests outside their jurisdiction. in some cases.
“Ahmaud has been the victim of a style of vigilante violence that has no place in Georgia,” Kemp said last week. “Some have attempted to justify the actions of his assassins by claiming that they have the protection of an outdated law that is ripe for abuse.”
Kemp also signed a hate crimes bill last June after Georgia was criticized for being one of four states that do not have a hate crime law. The law allows sentencing judges to increase penalties against those who target victims based on their race, color, religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender, mental disability or physical disability.
Cooper-Jones and civil rights activists say they won’t get justice for Arbery’s death until the McMichaels and Bryans are convicted and sentenced to life in prison.
But there is currently no trial date due to COVID-19 restrictions in Georgia, said Cobb County District Attorney Flynn D. Broady Jr., who is pursuing the case.
The state returned the case to Cobb County last May after three prosecutors in southern Georgia failed to make arrests for Arbery’s murder.
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Among them was former Brunswick District Attorney Jackie Johnson, who had jurisdiction over the case but recused herself because Gregory McMichael was a retired investigator from his office. Johnson lost his candidacy for re-election in November.
Broady, who toppled former county district attorney Joyette M. Holmes in November, said he expects the trial to begin this year and the McMichaels and Bryans to stand trial together.
“Justice will come,” Broady told TBEN. “And I believe as soon as COVID gets under control, we will see justice in this case.”
Bryan’s attorney, Kevin Gough, said in a statement his client was “presumed innocent” and his office was pursuing another bail hearing for Bryan after being denied bail seven months ago.
Lawyers said they also have a pending motion to dismiss the charges against Bryan.
“Our condolences go to Ahmaud Arbery’s family on the anniversary of his tragic death,” the statement said. “It is certainly a day that Mr. Bryan will never forget.”
The Peters, Rubin, Sheffield and Hodges PA law firm, which represents Travis McMichael, issued a statement saying “the sadness and tragedy surrounding Mr. Arbery’s death will never be forgotten”.
“We join the community in offering our condolences and prayers to the family and friends of Mr. Arbery for their loss,” the statement said.
Laura D. Hogue, an attorney for Gregory McMichael, declined to comment on the case, saying “The commemoration of this date belongs to the Arbery family.”
The need for accountability
Social justice advocates say that despite changes in politics and leadership in Georgia, Arbery’s death reflects a structural and societal problem linked to racist violence in the United States.
Rashad Robinson, president of Color of Change, said the justice system is unequal and has historically allowed whites to get away with killing blacks.
The protests and community engagement that followed Arbery’s death have drawn attention to this inequity and held law enforcement officials accountable for their inaction, he said.
Now Robinson has said the nation needs more policies that ensure accountability for every instance of racist violence and more investment in black communities.
“When the killer is white and the victim is black in communities across the country, justice is not served,” Robinson said. “There is nothing new about what happened to Ahmaud Arbery.
Cooper-Jones said she knew her son was targeted because he was a black man.
However, she feels encouraged by the outpouring of support from people everywhere and by the policy changes that resulted from Arbery’s death.
She plans to honor him during a candlelight vigil Tuesday night at New Springfield Baptist Church in Waynesboro, GA.
“I was a mother, Ahmaud was my little boy,” Cooper-Jones said. “He just wasn’t a jogger, he was my son.
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