Ahmaud Arbery’s family struggles to cope during trial for those charged in his death

Demonstrators marched to a mural of Ahmaud Arbery painted on Brunswick's African American Cultural Center.
caption arrowCaption
Demonstrators marched to a mural of Ahmaud Arbery painted on Brunswick's African American Cultural Center.

Credit: Asia Simone Burns / asia.burns@ajc.com

In the jury box, one panelist shielded her view with her notebook, unable to watch a graphic video of police body camera video showing 25-year-old Ahmaud Arbery lying bloody and motionless in the road.

Others inside the small Glynn County courtroom grew tense on Friday when a state prosecutor showed the cellphone video depicting the final moments of Arbery’s life. Arbery’s mother, Wanda Cooper Jones, wailed as she saw her son stumble backward away from the shotgun blast.

Some who had gathered to observe the murder trial were Arbery’s relatives, including his mom and dad. Some shook their heads in anger as the video showed the unarmed Arbery run toward Travis McMichael, who was holding a shotgun. Some looked down as the two men struggled over the weapon and McMichael pulled on its trigger.

The days leading up to that moment had been arduous, marked with countless motions from state prosecutors and the attorneys defending the three men accused in Arbery’s death. There had been hours upon hours of jury questioning and then disbelief and outrage over the ultimate racial makeup of that jury: 11 white people and one Black man.

Punctuating it all, a mother’s anguish.

“She has a lot of anger in her still,” Arbery’s aunt, Dianne Jackson, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution while sitting in a plastic chair in the courthouse lawn where she had been each day awaiting the beginning of the trial. “I think it’s because of the way that he died.”

Arbery was shot and killed in the Satilla Shores neighborhood outside Brunswick on Feb. 23, 2020. Travis McMichael, and his father, Greg McMichael, were both armed and riding in a pickup truck when they began chasing Arbery as he ran through their neighborhood after he left a house nearby that was under construction.

Roddie Bryan, a neighbor, soon joined the chase in his own pickup truck and took the cellphone video of the final moments of Arbery’s life. When the two pickups hemmed in Arbery, he charged at Travis McMichael and was shot three times at close range as he tried to take his shotgun.

The attorneys for the three men claim they were making a justified citizen’s arrest when they chased Arbery and that Travis McMichael shot him in self-defense.

As Superior Court Judge Timothy Walmsley weighed various motions inside the courtroom last week, the Arbery family gathered on the courthouse lawn, joined by the Transformative Justice Coalition, Black Voters Matter and the Georgia Chapter of the National Organization of Women. Demonstrators by the dozen gathered in a tight circle.

Then, they began marching across the parking lot and into Brunswick’s downtown area. They began to sing and chant while walking in single file down the yellow stripe in the center of Norwich Street. Ahmaud Arbery’s father, Marcus Arbery, led the procession.

When the group turned the corner onto Albany Street, they approached the Brunswick African American Cultural Center, the walls of which bear a mural of Ahmaud Arbery’s face. The group stopped outside the building and, on their knees, prayed in the grass. After the prayer, Marcus Arbery stood and looked up, his eyes gazing up at his son’s painted face.

Marcus Arbery said he has never seen the video showing his son’s death. Before it was shown to jurors during the trial, he left the courtroom, saying: “I don’t want to see this.”

Walmsley issued a warning before the most graphic body camera footage was shown in court, urging anyone who may have a strong reaction to it to step out.

Cooper Jones remained, quiet, but still weeping. As the video began playing, she cradled her face in trembling hands.

About the Author

Editors' Picks