Do not mistake accountability for justice.
Travis McMichael, Gregory McMichael and William "Roddie" Bryan are being held to account for murdering Ahmaud Arbery. They were not acting in self-defense. They were not in any way victims. They are three white men who decided to kill a young Black man they thought had no place in their neighborhood, stalking him in their pickup trucks, demanding he stop and listen to them.
When he did not abide, they murdered him.
Justice would be if the McMichaels and Bryan didn't believe — consciously or subconsciously — that they were within their rights as gun-wielding white men to stalk a Black man and order him to answer their questions and do as they demanded.
Justice would have been two district attorneys not blindly siding with the McMichaels after Arbery was killed, declining to charge them simply because they took their word that Arbery was somehow a threat and therefore they were justified in ending his life.
Justice would have been charges for Arbery's death coming sooner than 74 days.
Justice would have been it not requiring someone (later discovered to be an attorney) anonymously sending the graphic video of Arbery's assassination to a local media outlet, after which it went viral and public outcry ensued before the Georgia Bureau of Investigations stepped in and arrests were made. That outcry included activism from players in the WNBA, an organization that renewed its condolences to Arbery's family, saying Wednesday: "Today, there was accountability. for the devastating racialized violence that resulted in the murder of Ahmaud Arbery, and the WNBA will continue its work with the players and the WNBA/WNBAPA Social Justice Council to effect real, meaningful change."
Justice would be racism not having been so ingrained in the systems and structures of this country that defense lawyer Laura Hogue felt OK to argue that Arbery was no victim "in his khaki shorts, with no socks, and his long, dirty toenails." The gobsmackingly vile comment was perhaps meant to sway at least some of the 11 white jurors, under the assumption that they didn't care a Black man was lynched in broad daylight.
True justice would be Ahmaud Arbery alive, enjoying another Thanksgiving with his parents and other family and friends, perhaps enjoying a post-feast jog on Thursday in whatever neighborhood he chose, without fear of someone calling 911 to report the crime of a Black man jogging down the street for a little exercise.
Wednesday's verdict brings a sense of relief, however fleeting. It means that Arbery's family and friends can have a measure of peace. It means that three men who killed another human being for ... sport? fun? amusement? ... will be punished for doing so.
Because once the relief passes, the memory recalls Trayvon Martin, who like Arbery was killed for being Black in a neighborhood where someone believed he didn't belong. The trauma suffered by Brennan Walker, a Black high schooler in Michigan who overslept, missed his bus and was shot at when he knocked on a white neighbor's door to ask for directions. The tears of Travis Miller, a Black delivery truck driver trying to finish a job in a gated Oklahoma neighborhood, detained for over an hour by a white man demanding to know to which house he'd made the delivery. The damage done to an Army veteran, his teenage son and their real estate agent, all Black, when they were viewing a Michigan home for sale and a white neighbor called police, which led to the home being surrounded with multiple cops waiting for them to exit with guns drawn. The heartbreaking situation Kevin Strickland has been in and continues to be in, wrongfully caged for over 42 years for a crime he did not commit, and exonerated on Tuesday with nary a dollar from the state that held him to try to rebuild a semblance of a life.
And these are just incidents of white citizens believing they can impose their will on Black individuals because they want to. If we start listing the violence incurred by Black people at the hands of the police, we'd be here for days.
They are near-constant reminders of the injustices Black Americans continue to face in the country their enslaved ancestors built for free, where 156 years after alleged emancipation Black Americans still can't move freely, lest someone decide to play vigilante.
Someday, perhaps, there will be justice.
Wednesday was merely accountability.