BRUNSWICK, GA – Ahmaud Arbery’s mother woke up Thursday with a new and very important blessing on Thanksgiving Day.
But there will always be an empty chair at family celebrations. It’s a reminder that while she felt justice was served when three white men were convicted Wednesday of turning in and killing her son while he was running in a Georgia coastal neighborhood, she will never recover again. Her son is gone.
“This is our second Thanksgiving without Ahmed. But at the same time I’m grateful. This is the first Thanksgiving we say we did justice for Ahmed,” Arbery’s mother, Wanda Cooper-Jones, told The Associated Press in an interview on Thursday.
The three white men who stalked and killed Arbery in Brunswick in February 2020 were all convicted of the murder on Wednesday. They cornered Arbery after finding out he was seen on a security camera in a nearby home under construction and wanted to interrogate him about recent burglaries in the area.
Arbery ran into the neighborhood and other areas near his home to clear his head. He had nothing in his hands and ran from the men for five minutes before someone shot him three times at point blank range with a rifle. The men face life in prison when they are later sentenced, and a federal hate crime trial is scheduled for February.
Cooper-Jones said after reading the verdicts Wednesday, she thought of her son’s supporters in Glenn County Court who shouted “Justice for Ahmad!” every day.
“I finally had a chance to walk out of those courtroom doors and say, ‘We did it, we did it together,'” Cooper-Jones said.
The mother of Ronald Green, a Louisiana man, was sitting next to Cooper Jones when she heard the judge read guilty 23 times, who died in 2019 after being beaten and strangled by state soldiers after a high-speed chase. Soldiers said that Greene was injured in a crash, but his doctors reported that this did not appear to be true. The federal civil rights investigation into Greene’s death is still ongoing.
In the days following her son’s murder, Cooper Jones received a phone call from the mother of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black teen murdered by a man who successfully claimed self-defense during his murder trial after confronting Martin as he walked through his gated community. . Martin was visiting relatives.
I also spoke with Breonna Taylor’s mother. Taylor was killed by police in Louisville, Kentucky, who broke into her home without knocking while serving a warrant during a drug operation. Taylor’s friend shot the set. No charges were brought against the officers in her death.
She also reached out to other mothers who have lost sons and daughters to racist violence or to police shootings. Cooper Jones calls them a sorority.
“We get together. We share our experience and we grow together.”
Cooper Jones has spent the past six weeks away from home, since jury selection began on October 18. She moved away from Brunswick after her son’s murder.
So she’s planning a quiet Thanksgiving away from home today. She wasn’t sure if they’d make Arbery’s favourites – pork chops and butter beans, but if it wasn’t Thursday, they would soon have because she said her son loved them for Sunday dinner.
“Today is actually going to be a day of rest. I’ve been sitting in that courtroom since October 18,” Cooper-Jones said. “I am gathering my immediate family. We will have a small dinner. We will be thankful. We will give our praise to God.”
Other relatives are also grateful for the grace of justice.
We are thankful for Ahmed’s life. Thankful for the love he showed us, over the years we had. Thankful for the fight we stayed in for justice. Thankful that we can now begin to heal,” Arbery’s aunt Thea Brooks told The Associated Press.
She also thanks Cooper-Jones that her son’s killers face justice and that his death will make Georgia a safer place.
After Arbery’s death, Georgia became the 47th state to pass the Hate Crimes Act. The legislature also repealed the Citizen Arrest Act that defense attorneys had attempted to use to justify stalking him, and prevented non-officers from detaining people beyond the scope of theft.
“When they heard my son’s name. They would say, ‘This young man lost his life but he made the change,'” Cooper-Jones said.
Associated Press writers Alex Sanz in Atlanta and Ross Bynum in Savannah, Georgia contributed to this report.