Ahmaud Arbery Verdict: It is not so much that these men take the law into their own hands; it is that the law, designed as it is, already rests in their hands

November 24, 2021 – In response to the conviction of the three men who murdered Ahmaud Arbery, the Center for Constitutional Rights issued the following statement:

We hope the conviction of Ahmaud Arbery’s killers brings some solace to his family. Nonetheless, the deep-seated forces that led to his murder persist. A single guilty verdict in a system that protects white supremacy cannot alter the systemic racism that empowers both vigilantes and police officers to kill Black people, who, despite this verdict, are no safer today than they were yesterday. 

History touched every part of this case. The men who killed Ahmaud Arbery had good reason to believe ‒ to know ‒ that they would inherit the 400-year-old U.S. license to kill Black people. This murder was a modern-day lynching, and, like vigilantes of the lynching era, the defendants invoked a citizen’s arrest law, laws that grew out of slave patrols. Reminiscent of the Jim Crow era, the jury was nearly all white, giving the defense attorney the confidence to play to a number of racist tropes. She claimed, for example, that Arbery had “long dirty toenails,” hoping jurors would see him as less than human and therefore somehow to blame for his murder. While racism lost this time, anti-Blackness and white supremacy  are not only embedded in, but foundational to laws that protect white people’s claims to “self defense.” Just last week, Kyle Rittenhouse walked free, and it was the acquittal of Trayvon Martin’s killer, George Zimmerman, that inspired activists to launch Black Lives Matter. 

It is not so much that these men take the law into their own hands; it is that the law, designed as it is, already rests in their hands. Just as Ahmaud Arbery’s killers believed he was a criminal, they believed the police would protect them after they “arrested” him. Assumptions like these have been passed down through the generations, and frequently protected by law.  Systematic racism can be defeated only by systemic changes: by reimagining and restructuring our society to one that values and protects Black life, by abolishing police and policing, by dismantling the carceral state, and by creating a country where Black people have more resources ‒ and more power. We will be heartened when white vigilantes no longer feel the system is theirs. We will rejoice when Black people can walk and go jogging anywhere and feel safe. 

The Center for Constitutional Rights works with communities under threat to fight for justice and liberation through litigation, advocacy, and strategic communications. Since 1966, the Center for Constitutional Rights has taken on oppressive systems of power, including structural racism, gender oppression, economic inequity, and governmental overreach. Learn more at ccrjustice.org.


Last modified 

November 24, 2021