Ahmaud Arbery

Illinois Lawmakers, Activists React to Convictions in Trial of Men Who Killed Ahmaud Arbery

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Following the convictions of three men in the shooting death of Ahmaud Arbery, Chicago lawmakers and civil rights leaders are reacting to the news, calling it a step in the right direction that must be followed with additional action.

Arbery was shot and killed during a Feb. 2020 incident in Georgia. According to prosecutors, two men, Greg McMichael and his son Travis grabbed guns and jumped into a pickup truck to pursue the 25-year-old Black man after seeing him running in their neighborhood in the port city of Brunswick.

A third man, William Bryan, joined the pursuit in his own pickup and recorded cellphone video of Travis McMichael fatally shooting Arbery.

The graphic video leaked online two months later, and the three men, all of whom are white, were arrested shortly afterward.

Travis McMichael was convicted on all nine counts that he faced in the case. Greg McMichael was convicted on eight of nine counts, and Bryan was convicted on six of nine counts. All three face life in prison.

Defense attorneys contend the McMichaels were attempting a citizen’s arrest, and that they wanted to detain and question Arbery as a suspected burglar.

Prosecutors said there was no evidence Arbery had committed crimes in the neighborhood, with activists arguing that Arbery was killed because he was a Black man running in a predominately white neighborhood.

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot echoed those sentiments, and said that the convictions were a key step forward in the fight for civil rights.

“He was killed for no reason other than the color of his skin, and regardless of the accountability that his killers now face – that fact speaks volumes about how far we have yet to go,” she said. “The tragic events of Ahmaud’s death, and the initial response by local authorities must serve as a reminder that we must continue our commitment to use our words and deeds to face and address historic wrongs, and to make good on the promises we tell our children.”

In terms of protests following the verdict, the Chicago Office of Emergency Management and Communications says that there is “no actionable information or threat to public safety” after the verdict, but says that it will remain alert in the aftermath.

“The City of Chicago holds sacred and will protect everyone’s First Amendment rights to peaceful protest,” OEMC said in a statement. “OEMC and the Chicago Police Department will continue to monitor and coordinate the operational response as needed alongside our public safety and infrastructure partners.”

There is at least one demonstration planned following the verdict at Federal Plaza in Chicago, with groups organizing to celebrate the verdict and to demand further action.

“Invariably, there will be a range of emotions that these verdicts will invoke. I urge that any expressions arising from these verdicts be exhibited peacefully and with respect for the law,” Lightfoot said.

Rev. Jesse Jackson, who sat in the courtroom with Arbery’s parents during the trial, admitted he had doubts about whether the men would be found guilty.

“I was convinced that jury was incapable of being just,” he said.

Sen. Dick Durbin, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, spoke out after the verdicts, calling the killing a “modern-day lynching.”

“I hope today’s verdict can provide some small solace to Ahmaud Arbery’s family and friends, but the cold truth is that Mr. Arbery will never have a chance to marry, raise children or grow old,” Durbin said. “These murderers carried out a modern-day lynching that snuffed out a promising young life and then walked free for weeks. Mr. Arbery’s murder must stiffen our resolve to address injustices that date back to the founding of our Republic and are deeply embedded in our law and culture.”

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