BRUNSWICK, Ga. (WSAV) — For the Arbery family, it’s been a heart-wrenching journey since Ahmaud was shot and killed on a sunny Sunday afternoon in the Satilla Shores neighborhood of Brunswick. Two and a half years later, the family said they feel they finally got full justice.
The three men responsible for Arbery’s death will spend the rest of their lives in state prison for murder. In addition, the McMichaels will serve life in federal prison for hate crimes, while Bryan will do 35 years.
Victories in court won’t bring back the youngest Arbery, affectionately called Quez, but family members said his death was not in vain.
“God blessed him,” said Diane Jackson, Ahmaud’s aunt. “He wanted Quez to make a change in this world. And he picked, he chose Quez.”
“We got full justice for Ahmaud,” Jackson continued. “And I know he’s looking down smiling and I knew my family was going to do it.”
Protests and video of the shooting put the nation’s eyes on Brunswick, a town of 16,000 people.
“Ahmaud’s name will be on the lips of many forever,” said Sharon Blue Lee, president of the NAACP in Brunswick. “It will be used to instruct law enforcement, it will be used as examples of cases, what not to do, what to do. But as it relates to Brunswick, I think the true benefit will be what do we do to ensure that this won’t happen again.”
Arbery’s legacy already endures in his hometown with a mural, park and street dedicated in his honor. Georgia also now recognizes Feb. 23 — the day he died — as Ahmaud Arbery Day.
But the impacts reach much further. Arbery’s death moved state lawmakers to pass a hate crime law and repeal the citizen’s arrest law, which the McMichaels and Bryan used as their defense for chasing and killing the unarmed Black man.
“This case has already changed the landscape of the legal system in the United States,” said attorney Lee Merritt. “It’s changed laws in Georgia and his name will never be forgotten. Ahmaud Arbery’s name will go down in history as a catalyst for change.”
The Arberys said these are all big steps, but there’s more work to be done in the fight for racial justice.
“I look at Emmett Till, no justice,” Ahmaud’s father Marcus said. “Trayvon Martin, no justice. All these kids have been killed wrongfully. Breonna Taylor just is about to get justice. Killed wrongfully. It just isn’t right. But it’s got to start somewhere.”
On the other side of two trials with guilty verdicts for the McMichaels and Bryan, Arbery’s mother and father said they’re proud of their son and his legacy that will live on forever.
“As long as I live, the name of Ahmaud Arbery will live forever,” Wanda Cooper Jones, his mother, said.
“Ahmaud will live on for the next 500 years,” Marcus said. “He will live on.”
The Arberys still want to hold former Brunswick District Attorney Jackie Johnson accountable. Last year, Johnson was indicted for charges alleging she used her position to hinder police from arresting the McMichaels.
Johnson denies the allegations. The Georgia Attorney General’s Office is prosecuting the case.