On February 22, a historic verdict was reached in the hate crime trial of William Bryan and Greg and Travis McMichael, the three men found guilty of killing Ahmaud Arbery. The three were found guilty of federal hate crime charges, including kidnapping and violating Arbery’s civil rights.
Twenty-five-year-old Arbery was murdered on February 23, 2020, while he was out for a jog in his neighborhood in Brunswick, Georgia. He was unarmed, and he was not in violation of any laws. The three men had argued they acted in self-defense but were eventually found guilty of murder. Bryan and the McMichaels were found guilty of federal hate crimes, meaning that the jury was able to come to the conclusion that these crimes were committed with racist intent beyond a reasonable doubt.
Evidence against the three included statements from over 20 witnesses, some of which mentioned the numerous instances of derogatory language and racist comments that were used on multiple occasions towards friends, coworkers and acquaintances. The defense had tried to argue that the past statements made by the men were not indicative of their intent in the moment when they killed Arbery and that racism was not the motivating factor behind the killing. All three men were found guilty on all counts, and this could lead to a sentence of life in prison. Sentencing is set to occur at a later date.
Last year, video of the incident became public, sparking national outcry that led to charges being filed. Also in the past year, the Department of Justice and Attorney General Merrick Garland filed federal hate crime charges for the case. In a statement after the verdict was announced, the Justice Department said, “The Justice Department has a legal obligation to prosecute federal hate crimes. And as Americans, all of us have a moral obligation to combat the hatred and bigotry that motivates those crimes. Today’s verdict makes clear that the Justice Department will continue to use every resource at its disposal to confront unlawful acts of hate, and to hold accountable those who perpetrate them.”
For Hope College students, the historical implications of this case make it an important current event to focus on. “My observation regarding the recent verdict would be that I think people are often confused when it comes to understanding what issues are actually at stake in a trial,” senior political science and pre-law student Katie DeReus said. “It is important to note that no one was disputing the racist actions of the defendants; this trial attempted to uncover the motivations of their specific actions on the day when they killed Arbery. I think that this case was specifically interesting because the actual trial for the actions themselves was separate from the hate crimes trial. […] I hope that this ruling helps people to understand the importance of identifying and confronting bigoted behavior before it’s too late. If those who had seen the three killers’ racism prior to the shooting had done something about it, perhaps Arbery would still be alive today.”