Marcus Arbery, Ahmaud’s father, spoke first at the hearing that would determine the fate of his son’s killers.
Travis McMichael, his father Greg McMichael and their neighbor William “Roddie” Bryan murdered Arbery “in broad daylight” while he was “doing what he loved more than anything — running,” his father Marcus Arbery told Georgia Superior Court Judge Timothy Walmsley on Friday. “That’s when he felt most alive, most free — and they took all that from him,” Arbery said. “When I close my eyes, I see his execution in my mind, over and over. I’ll see that for the rest of my life.”
Marcus Arbery put his finger on one of the elements of racism animating people like the McMichaels: His son running “alive” and “free” was an affront to them, in and of itself. Ahmaud Arbery had the temerity to demonstrate his freedom to them, and this was more than they, as proud white people, were prepared to tolerate. Marcus Arbery also pointedly noted something neither the McMichaels nor their attorney probably even considered; throughout the trial the McMichaels had sat together as father and son, while he, on the other hand, would never again have an opportunity to do that.
Watch Ahmaud Arbery’s father’s statement below.
Ahmaud Arbery’s mother, Wanda Cooper-Jones, spoke next. In expressing her grief and the toll her son’s death has taken on her own life, her statement was singular in emphasizing that it was her son’s skin color alone that prompted his murderers to feel they could justifiably end his existence without fear of repercussions, something they certainly wouldn’t feel about a white person jogging through their neighborhood.
From Ms. Cooper-Jones’ statement, as reported by The Hill:
“This wasn’t a case of mistaken identity or mistaken fact. They chose to target my son because they didn’t want him in their community,” Cooper-Jones said. “They chose to treat him differently than other people who frequently visited their community and when they couldn’t sufficiently scare him or intimidate him, they killed him.”
Watch Cooper-Jones’ complete statement below.
Arbery’s sister, Jasmine, was no less pointed in emphasizing that her brother was targeted by his murderers solely because of his skin color and features. As reported by CNN, her statement was poignant and unsparing.
“Ahmaud had dark skin that glistened in the sunlight like gold. He had thick, coily hair and he would often like to twist it. Ahmaud had a broad nose … He was tall with an athletic build. He enjoyed running and had an appreciation for being outdoors,” she said. “These are the qualities that made these men assume that Ahmaud was a dangerous criminal and chase him with guns drawn. To me, those qualities reflect a young man full of life and energy, who looked like me, and the people I love.”
The physical distinctions she deliberately lists here—his hair, nose, and build—all echo the tropes white Americans have historically used to describe Black Americans when seeking to set them apart from whites. Her point that all of these characteristics are shared by the same people she loves, and even herself, speaks to the inability of many whites to look beyond differences in appearances and see Black people as equals, entitled to as much respect and consideration as they would afford their white neighbors.
Watch Jasmine Arbery’s statement below.
In issuing the sentences, Judge Walmsley carefully noted he was not considering the notoriety of the case in making his decision. He also emphasized the time that Arbery actually spent running in terror from his attackers by pausing the court proceedings for a full minute, explaining that this only represented a fraction of the (at least ) five minutes in which Arbery was pursued.
It is clear that video evidence played a large part in the court’s decision, as Judge Walmsley specifically noted Cooper-Jones’ statement, echoing her sentiment that having failed to scare and intimidate her son, the McMichaels instead elected to kill him. After all (as noted by Ahmaud’s father), Ahmaud was Black, running free and alive. and not acquiescing to their demands. And to the McMichaels and Bryan, that was, well, just intolerable.
After hearing the statements of Arbery’s family members, the judge handed down his sentence, declining to provide either Travis or Gregory McMichael the possibility of parole, as well as an additional 20 years added to both sentences, to be served consecutively. Bryan was sentenced to life, but with the possibility of parole, plus an additional 10 consecutive years, though the latter sentence is suspended. The judge acknowledged that his decision to allow that degree of leniency was based upon bodycam footage that indicated Bryan had reservations and concerns about what had occurred.
But we know exactly what occurred, and why. Ahmaud Arbery’s family knows exactly what occurred, and why. And Ahmaud himself knew, in every one of his final moments, even as it was happening.