The Jury Defied The “Many”

You may not remember, given the length of the average attention span these days and the refusal to admit that yesterday’s outrage, so vehement that some were ready to change everything because of it, turned out not only not to be particularly outrageous, but not to matter at all. At the outset of the Arbery trial, the media, the punditry, the social justice warriors, the work reformers, went nuts over the racial makeup of the jury. Sound remotely familiar?

The jury, which is made up of residents from Glynn County, where more than a quarter of the population is Black, includes 11 white people and one Black person. Anxiety over what the jury’s racial makeup would be had been palpable among observers and participants in recent days.

To be fair, far more people were obsessed with the trial of Kyle Rittenhouse at the time, so its understandable that the Arbery case didn’t make the front burner. But after the former went south, eyes turned to the latter and you’ll never believe what happened! That jury, consisting of 11 white people and one “B”lack person, convicted. The New York Times came up with a cool explanation of how this seemingly impossible outcome could have happened.

Despite the evidence of racism she had at her disposal, Linda Dunikoski, the prosecutor, stunned some legal observers by largely avoiding race during the trial, choosing instead to hew closely to the details of how the three men had chased the Black man, Ahmaud Arbery, through their neighborhood.

The risks went beyond her career and a single trial. Failure to convict in a case that many saw as an obvious act of racial violence would reverberate well outside Glynn County, Ga. For some, it would be a referendum on a country that appeared to have made tentative steps last summer toward confronting racism, only to devolve into deeper divisions.

There is no doubt that this was a case that “many saw as an obvious act of racial violence.” Maybe this refers to the “many” who believe everything is racial violence. Maybe it refers to the nice folkx around the NYT newsroom. Maybe it refers to “many” on twitter or the the “many” who write for publications people at the NYT prefer to read. “Many” isn’t a very informative word, but allowing a bit of vagary, those “many” found it “obvious.” And when something “obvious,” there’s nothing more to say about it because it’s, well, obvious.

That the prosecution didn’t argue that this was just racism, plain and simple, “stunned some legal observers.” In the language of the vague, “some” is less than “many,” but “stunned” is stronger than “surprised,” for example. Why, in a world where “some” legal observers find it “obvious” that a killing of a black person by white people, tried before an overwhelmingly white jury, would the prosecution not present the case as a racist murder?

A number of legal experts, in the moment, thought Ms. Dunikoski’s strategy to be a risky one. But many in Brunswick thought that she had proved savvy about what tone to strike in a Deep South community where, they said, race doesn’t have to be referenced explicitly for everyone to understand the implications.

It’s unclear to me where “a number” falls as opposed to “some” and “many.” It could be less. It could be more. Who can say? But this number, whoever they are since they are referenced but unnamed, assume that there was no need to inject race into the mix since everybody knew it anyway. This is likely because it was “obvious.” You know, if it goes without saying, don’t say it.

In contrast to these legal experts and observers, and the “many” who found it obvious, there was another possibility.

Cedric King, a Black local businessman, said that the evidence against the defendants, particularly the video of Mr. Arbery’s murder, had been strong enough to stand on its own.

“Anybody with warm blood running through their veins that witnessed the video and knew the context around what transpired knew that it was wrong,” Mr. King said.

Blood temperature notwithstanding, King had a point. There was evidence. The prosecution had the option of pounding on race or pounding on the facts. Linda Dunikoski chose the latter.

The case, from the beginning, echoed painful themes in the Deep South. The murder of a Black man by white men carrying guns, presented to a jury that included just one Black person. The rest were white. The jury had been put in place over the protests of Ms. Dunikoski, who had tried unsuccessfully to prevent potential Black jurors from being removed during the selection process by the defense lawyers. It was also a painful moment for Glynn County, a majority-white county that remains marked by the legacy of segregation.

All of this may well be true, but was it relevant? As “obvious” as it may have been to “many,” is every killing of a black person by white people a crime because of race, or was this killing of Ahmaud Arbery a crime because of what the defendants did in this specific case, as reflected by the evidence presented at a trial before a jury?

Ahmaud Arbery’s family now has justice, or at least whatever justice the criminal-justice system can offer. The jury included 11 whites and one black. They looked at the facts and came to a decision that deserves to be treated with the same respect that the jurors in the Rittenhouse trial deserve. The jury system isn’t perfect, but we trust it to render better justice than the cable-TV shouters who demand guilt or innocence for their own political purposes.

Can “many” seeing the “obvious” be wrong? Are “some” too easily “stunned”? Did a “number” really possess the “legal expertise” to recognize the risk of trusting the evidence, the jury, the system? Or did the legal system, a prosecutrix who did her job of presenting evidence of guilt, and a jury including the jury of 11 white people and white people and one black person, that did its job of fairly and impartially finding the facts, provide at least one example that everything isn’t broken and everything isn’t only about race?

7 thoughts on “The Jury Defied The “Many”

  1. B. McLeod

    The court did its job as well, restricting the evidence to what it deemed relevant and not excessively prejudicial. The prosecutor wanted to use in cross a racial epithet allegedly uttered by Travis Mcmichael, but the court barred it as “too inflammatory.” So it’s wonderful to paint the heroic prosecutor as taking the high road, but the court was actually steering her away from trying the case on race.

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