For Arbery’s family and friends, a time of angst and activism

BRUNSWICK, GA – From the moment Theawanza Brooks heard the initial account that her family had been informed of the death of her nephew Ahmaud Arbery, it felt bad. Authorities, she said, reported that he was involved in a burglary and killed after a fight over a gun.

Her own trip to investigate the scene of her death – her blood still visible on the floor – made her even more skeptical. Almost three months later, when a video became public showing Mr. Arbery being chased, cornered and then shot at point blank range, she felt justified and angry – an anger that lasted for nearly two years.

Ms Brooks, 37, who works in retail, is one of many in Mr Arbery’s extended extended family and circle of friends who have been both distressed and galvanized into action since his death in February 2020. Over the past month, as the case against the three men charged with murder unfolded at the Glynn County Courthouse, they watched with anguish the gruesome details of the final moments in Mr. Arbery – but almost none of his humanity – were described to the jury. Part of the family’s role, Ms Brooks said, is to help the public understand who her nephew was.

“This activism gave me a kick that I never saw myself being a part of,” she said. “I feel like every day I go out I have to have some sort of representation of Ahmaud.”

Ms Brooks attended the trial regularly, filling notebooks with detailed descriptions of what was said by witnesses, lawyers and the judge. At the end of the day, she crosses the media coverage to make sure her notes are accurate before going live on Facebook to relay the day’s events to people around the world.

Diane Arbery, another aunt of Mr. Arbery, has spent all day outside the courthouse, chatting with supporters every day. So was Carla Arbery, an aunt whose children were particularly close to Mr. Arbery. Ruby Arbery, yet another aunt of Mr. Arbery, brought home cooked meals for family members and supporters. Mr. Arbery’s parents attended each day of the trial, each arriving with their own lawyer, and occasionally seated with prominent civil rights activists including Reverend Al Sharpton and Reverend Jesse Jackson.

“I tried to watch every second, every minute because I don’t want to miss a thing,” said Akeem Baker, one of Mr. Arbery’s best friends since childhood. “I feel like if I take my eyes off him, I don’t want anything slipping through the cracks.”

Many of the people closest to Mr. Arbery start and end the day with a prayer. They pray throughout the day for the strength to continue to watch. “We need prayer,” said Diane Arbery. “We need to keep praying and we ask everyone to keep praying for us. “

Last week, black pastors from across the country joined the family in Brunswick to show their support after a defense lawyer called for black pastors and civil rights leaders not to be allowed in the courtroom. hearing because they could intimidate the jury.

“My heart is filled with joy in the midst of this broken heart,” Mr. Arbery’s mother Wanda Cooper-Jones told the gathered crowd before asking pastors and activists to pronounce her son’s name.

Ms. Brooks and Mr. Arbery’s other aunts were there too, wearing T-shirts that said, “These are black pastors to me.”

Mr. Arbery, 25, was known to his family and friends as Maud or Quez. He had been an outstanding linebacker for the Brunswick High School Pirates and dreamed of playing professional football. He briefly left town to attend a technical school, but eventually returned to the Brunswick area and lived with his mother. “His mother was his queen,” Mr. Baker said.

He loved to rap and listen to trap music. After a hard day, he would sometimes go to Madge Merritt Park, near Brunswick, to rap to clear his head. He had recently started landscaping work with his father, and he also worked at a truck wash, according to a friend. He also suffered from a mental illness which caused him to hallucinate his hearing.

James Trimmings, who grew up and played football with Mr. Arbery, described his dedication to his friends. He said Mr. Arbery was always happy to babysit his two children.

“If you called Maud and he didn’t answer, he would call you back,” Mr. Trimmings said. “But if you didn’t answer, he would come and get you because he was afraid you weren’t doing well.” Everyone should be lucky enough to have a friend like Maud.

The portrait of Mr. Arbery drawn by lawyers for the men accused of his death was difficult for the family to hear. A lawyer, arguing that his attackers had reason to believe Mr. Arbery was responsible for a series of break-ins in the neighborhood, described him as “an intruder” who was filmed four times in “looting” a house under construction in the neighborhood.

Mr Arbery’s aunts and grandmother said the day the medical examiner spoke was the most difficult. The testimony left no doubt in their minds that Mr. Arbery died scared and alone.

Ms Brooks has focused on this moment since learning of her nephew’s death. Although she and Mr. Arbery separated after moving to another part of town with her mother, they had spent a lot of time together in the months leading up to her murder. She checked it every few days while her mother was away from town for her work. He didn’t have a car, so she made sure he had provisions.

On February 23, 2020, Ms Brooks went to the Satilla Shores neighborhood outside of Brunswick as soon as she left her job – her disbelief at the news of Mr Arbery’s death forced her to see for itself.

“I was upset,” she said. She was surprised to see that the house that her nephew was accused of having broken into had neither window nor door; it was still under construction.

“Burglary,” she said. “It kept telling me ‘How can you rob this?’ “

Ms Brooks began to follow local news reports mentioning Mr Arbery, trying to piece together what had happened. She wanted everyone to know what happened to her nephew and her killers to be held accountable.

Eventually, three men – Travis McMichael, his father, Gregory McMichael and their neighbor William Bryan – were charged with murder. The case has become one of the most high-profile in the country, contributed to national fury over the shooting deaths of blacks and the wave of protests against systemic racism. In Georgia, this prompted lawmakers to enact hate crimes legislation and largely dismantle the law on the arrest of state citizens.

In the months that followed, Ms Brooks marched through the streets of Brunswick chanting Mr Arbery’s name, knocking on doors to tell residents the story of her nephew’s life and death and told them urged to vote against the district attorney who initially refused to press charges against the suspects in Mr. Arbery’s murder. The name and image of his nephew are on his car, his clothes, his jewelry.

“Travis McMichael went up there and said he feared for his son,” Ms. Brooks said. “Maud was someone’s son. What about the son he took from Wanda and Marcus? The son we love that we will never see again, who will never come home again?

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