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Racial reckoning looms in Georgia

Activists plan rally ahead of jury selection for trial for Arbery slaying

A woman holds a sign during a rally on May 16, 2020, to protest the shooting of Ahmaud Arbery in Brunswick, Ga. The Associated Press

BRUNSWICK, Ga. — A framed photo on the wall of Travis Riddle’s soul food restaurant shows the local sheriff arresting a gray-bearded white man with hands cuffed behind his back, a reminder to all who enter that for Riddle justice still waits to be served in the slaying of Ahmaud Arbery.

It shows Greg McMichael on the day last year that he and his son, Travis McMichael, were jailed on murder charges in the 25-year-old Black man’s killing.

The McMichaels are charged with chasing Arbery in a pickup truck and fatally shooting him after spotting him running in their neighborhood. More than two months passed before their arrests after video of the shooting was leaked online and sparked a national outcry.

Jury selection in the murder trial of the McMichaels and William “Roddie” Bryan, a neighbor who joined the pursuit and took the video, is scheduled to begin Monday. For many, it’s not just the three white defendants on trial, but rather a justice system that allowed them to remain free for weeks after they pursued and killed a Black man.

“You’ve got the corruption, then the good ole boy system, then the racism — that’s how I see it,” said Riddle, who hopes to break away from his restaurant, Country Boy Cooking, to attend some of the trial.

Local activists plan a weekend rally at the Glynn County Courthouse in Brunswick, a working-class port city 70 miles south of Savannah, and a car caravan through the neighborhood where Arbery was slain.

“It’s shaken the faith of the Black and brown community in their ability to trust the justice system,” said the Rev. John Perry, who was president of the Brunswick NAACP chapter when Arbery was killed.

Arbery’s death on Feb. 23, 2020, later became part of the broader reckoning on racial injustice in the criminal legal system after a string of fatal encounters between Black people and police — George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Rayshard Brooks, among others. Akeem Baker, a close friend of Arbery’s, still takes runs on the 23rd day of each month for a distance of exactly 2.23 miles to keep his memory alive.

Baker said he is frequently tagged in social media posts by people doing similar memorial runs as far away as the U.K.

“I have to believe that this is going to bring needed changes to Brunswick and to the nation, in terms of racial justice,” Baker said.

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