More than two years ago, Transformative Justice Coalition President and Founder Barbara Arnwine and Board Chair Daryl Jones put their arms around Ahmaud Arbery’s family.
Both lawyers, Arnwine and Jones didn’t seek to represent the family legally but to offer encouragement and help strengthen the resolve they needed to pursue justice for the 25 year old shot to death in Brunswick, Georgia.
“When we first interacted with the family, they were hesitant to get involved,” Jones told NNPA Newswire following the sentencing of Travis McMichael, Greg McMichael and William Bryan.
“They figured they’d do whatever in this case and that there would be acquittals. But we were able to work with the family to stiffen their spine and stand with them and walk with them and talk with them. [The result] is that they became very strong advocates,” Jones said.
U.S. District Court Judge Lisa Wood handed down life sentences to Travis and Greg McMichael and gave Bryan 35 years.
A federal jury convicted the men of federal hate crimes. They were also found guilty in state court and received life without parole for those convictions.
Over objections from the defendants, Judge Wood ordered the men to serve their sentences in the harsher environment of state prison.
“This is a major victory for holding these men accountable for a racial hate killing,” Arnwine stated. “People don’t understand that should anything go wrong with the state verdict, a reversal, now they have to somehow deal with the federal charges. It’s like having two padlocks at the door.”
Arnwine called the McMichael father/son duo and Bryan symbols of hate.
“They will forever be a symbol of hate in this country,” Arnwine said. “The Arbery family will forever be symbols of justice – fighters who refused to be lied to and people who refused to believe the worst about their son. They demanded justice and they persisted.”
Both Arnwine and Jones were in the courtroom when Wood announced the sentencing and each referred to the decision as a powerful moment.
“For the last two years, we had been advisors to the family and we have mobilized hundreds of people to come to Brunswick to lift up this tragedy and demand justice,” Arnwine said. “For the Transformative Justice Coalition, for the hundreds who have come demanding justice, for the Arbery family without whom there would be no murder or hate crime case but for them and their persistence, today was a moment of reckoning. It was judgment day. A day in which the racist murderers of Ahmaud Arbery were held accountable in a very powerful way.”
Jones said Arbery’s family expressed relief.
“We were pleased to hear the sentencing. It assures that the two McMichaels and Bryan will not get out of jail for the rest of their lives,” Jones said. “The Arbery family demonstrated for this country how to be strong in the face of adversity. They weren’t seeking publicity – they were thrown into this fight.”
National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA) President and CEO Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis, Jr., who has been working with the Transformative Justice Coalition to get 10 million new Black Americans to register to vote, pledged to keep Arbery’s memory alive.
“The NNPA takes due notice of the additional federal prison time given to the brutal and convicted murderers of Ahmaud Arbery,” Dr. Chavis said. “We stand with the family of Ahmaud Arbery and their attorneys who stood strong and vigilant to demand justice. We pledge to keep Ahmaud’s memory alive and the legacy of all those murdered by the ruthless terrorist acts of racists in America.”