At the cultural center, which features a mural of Arbery’s smiling face against a blue and yellow backdrop, Annie Polite takes a break, sitting down in her walker.
“The system has to change,” said the 87-year-old Black woman. “It’s not fair. There’s no justice in what goes on behind closed doors. We all deserve equal justice.”
In Arbery’s hometown, the trial of his death underscored mistrust.
“Many people have said – and I’ve said it too – that this is really testing our justice system in front of so many people,” said John Perry II, a pastor and former president. the president of the Brunswick chapter said. of the NAACP, who lost this month’s bid for the mayor of Brunswick.
“They’re looking intently at this case to see, ‘Can we really trust this justice system?’ … to answer the question in their minds and hearts, ‘Do we have a justice system on which we can depend?’
Quietly waiting for an answer
While the defendants’ actions and motives face scrutiny in court, some Black residents here have their own theories as to why Arbery was killed, often based on their experiences in the United States. Brunswick, where about 55% of residents are Black compared with 27% countywide.
Aundra Fuller, a middle school special education teacher and executive director of the Brunswick African American Cultural Center, believes Arbery’s deadly shooting stemmed from a gap of mutual understanding. each other when the defendants encountered him along a suburban street, she said.
The lack of “cultural awareness” has created a mindset in which defendants feel comfortable enough to “devalue a person because of their color,” she said.
Helen Ladson, a tour guide here who also unsuccessfully ran for mayor, put it this way: “My question has always been: Why would they feel comfortable shooting the man? this in broad daylight and thought they were going to run away. ? Why are they so relaxed?”
Long before Arbery’s death gained national attention, there were whispers in the community about the plot that Arbery was shot while trying to commit a burglary, residents said.
James Yancey, a black criminal defense attorney, was struck by how little detail about the case was included in a short article in the local newspaper, he recalled. Perry at the time had similar suspicions.
“It’s not new,” said Dwight E. Jordan, a former black state pardoned officer. “To hear that a police officer or someone claiming to be a cop is going to turn around and shoot someone, specifically a black person, specifically a Black person because he was running while Black – that’s not new. to me.”
“Immediately there is another level of passion,” he said. “Because you let them try to paint the story of who Ahmaud is. But then when you start to discover who he is to yourself, it fuels even more resentment that you’re going to try. trying to paint such a negative, negative character on someone who has sown so many seeds of good in our community.”
“There were people on Facebook who said, ‘Hey, you guys are talking about Trayvon Martin, but we have a case of Trayvon Martin right here, and no one talks about it,'” Ladson recalls.
Tension flared up – but unsurprisingly, somehow
But as sad as the video is, it doesn’t surprise the Black residents here.
“Having been a Negro all my life, living in America all my life, I was pretty much expected to see bad things happen to Negroes,” Yancey said. “Watching that video, it just further affirms the value of the lives of exceptional black men in America.”
Nurse Sonia Richardson, mother of three boys and grandchild Black, “couldn’t believe it.”
“It’s like (the case) is just being played around with, like people don’t take it seriously. The law doesn’t take it seriously. Our criminal justice system doesn’t take it seriously,” she said.
The episode, he said, shook Perry’s faith in the justice system.
“There’s nothing we can do about McMichaels’ decision (to go after Arbery). What’s in a man’s heart and how he chooses to act, you can’t control that,” he said. “But if something like that happens, you certainly hope that when law enforcement shows up, they’ll make an arrest, that they’ll say this is very serious, and that as As a civil society, this is not how we operate. But that’s not what we have.”
“We trust them to be the ones doing justice,” he said. “And this horrible incident happened, and they turned a blind eye.”
Lady Justice facing a moment of truth
“The jury has a responsibility to follow the law,” the special teacher said. “And if they follow the law, it doesn’t matter what color they are. So it might be surprising that this all-white jury convicts them.”
But she, like everyone else, is bracing for disappointment. Acquittals in this case would be “another day at the beach” for Blacks in America, she said. “We have suffered injustice for too long … we do not expect justice.”
Perry believes in an “absolute truth”, which for him means that the defendants will be found guilty. But it also means seeing the justice system live up to its promise that “justice is blind – it doesn’t consider color.”
“To see the process of justice work like the promise of justice, that’s justice to me,” he said.
“At the end of the day, the person on trial here is the United States, the justice system,” said Jordan, the pardoned former officer. “Lady Justice has to show that she can peek from anywhere to see injustice, to see that her scales aren’t, and to try to balance it if she can – if she can – if She’s willing to do it.”
Returning to the march, Polite rose from her walker and stepped to her knees with protesters, clergy and members of the Arbery family to pray for that justice.
“This is a battle that has been going on all my life, and it continues,” she said. “As long as there is a challenge, I must be in the battle.”
CNN’s Demetrius Pipkin contributed to this report.