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What we should take away from the verdicts in Ahmaud Arbery killing

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

A Georgia jury has convicted three white men of murdering Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year-old Black man killed while jogging last year.

MARCUS ARBERY: You wouldn't imagine what we went through every day fighting, trying to get justice for him or the three white men that hunt him down and left him in the middle of the street like that.

MARTIN: That's Ahmaud's father, Marcus Arbery, as he told NPR's Ari Shapiro the convictions were a victory in a system that has often denied justice to Black Americans.

ARBERY: You know, Black African American people, we suffer the most, not getting the right justice we deserve. You know, it was like there was two laws - one for white America and one for Black America.

MARTIN: Eddie S. Glaude Jr. is an author and professor of African American studies at Princeton University. His most recent book is titled "Begin Again: James Baldwin's America And Its Urgent Lessons For Our Own." Professor Glaude, thanks so much for being back on the program, especially on this Thanksgiving Day.

EDDIE S GLAUDE JR: Good morning and happy Thanksgiving. It's my pleasure.

MARTIN: And to you. All three men in this case were found guilty of murder. Did the verdict surprise you?

GLAUDE: You know, actually, no. The expectation was that this public lynching would lead to convictions. It would have been a shock given the evidence in the video if the decision was otherwise. So I wasn't particularly surprised.

MARTIN: Last week, you wrote an op-ed in The Washington Post about the two justice systems that you see in this country, the two justice systems that we just heard Ahmaud Arbery's father refer to - one for Black people, one for white people. It is unlikely wise to extrapolate too much from one case, but is this verdict in your opinion a meaningful step in rectifying the two systems?

GLAUDE: Well, you know, I think it may be, but we have to be very careful. This decision which is so clear, the acts were so heinous that it would have been monstrous - right? - to acquit these men, just like it would have been monstrous to acquit Derek Chauvin, right? But those cases don't vindicate the systemic bias within the system, right? And I think it's kind of ironic. You think about, you know, we're living in our contradictions. You think about January 6 with the insurrection, you know, the attack on the Capitol. And what happened January 7? The state of Georgia elected its first Jewish and Black senators. You had these two world collides - you know, these two worlds collided on January 6 and 7. And here we have the decision with Kyle Rittenhouse and the decision with the McMichaels and the third defendant. And it's almost as if these two elements of the country are still colliding, right? We're living in the midst of those contradictions desperately trying to be otherwise in this country.

MARTIN: It's worth noting - I mean, you mentioned that video. The activists worked really hard to get that video released that ultimately led to these three men being arrested, charged and now found guilty. What do you make of that, that it was so difficult to get it released but the fact that it had so much power?

GLAUDE: Well, you know, I mean, you know, video has fundamentally changed - right? - how Americans are policed, fundamentally changed the way we hold people accountable. But, you know, it really speaks volumes that if it wasn't for the video, if it wasn't for activists, if it wasn't for the persistence of the Arberys in ensuring that there would be justice for their son, none of this would have happened. None of this is what would happen. So, you know, we have a tendency in this country to want to pat ourselves on the back when we do the obvious right thing. But just think about it - we wouldn't have done it if it wasn't for the activists in the streets. And I think it's really important for us to understand that as we try to move to this next - how can I put this? As we try to be otherwise, Rachel, as a country, as we try to be better, folk - everyday, ordinary people on the street will push us to be better. It's not just about the political process, formal political process. It's also about what we demand of ourselves. And sometimes that will take us getting in the streets asking, demanding for better.

MARTIN: These men now convicted of murder still face federal hate crime charges. Is having multiple avenues for prosecution a way to overcome institutional racism in the justice system?

GLAUDE: Well, I mean, it's certainly perhaps will serve as a deterrent. We need to hold ourselves accountable on every level. You know, part of the horror of being Black in a country where the criminal justice system is so biased is that people do horrible things and are often not held to account. And so we need to kind of announce in the very way in which we, you know, prosecute the law that this is just unacceptable, finally, you know? And I think it's because - how can I put this, Rachel? The intimacy of our hatreds - you know, think about Jackie Johnson the DA. Think about all the people who knew the McMichaels, who allowed them to roam the streets after they killed a man in broad daylight. So I think on the one hand, holding people accountable even at the state level, at the federal level is absolutely necessary if we're going to fundamentally transform, but we also have to hold each other accountable when people who we love, whom we live with, do heinous things.

MARTIN: I'm just - I'm still locked into what you just said, the intimacy of the racism. And intimacy is a word that, I mean, we don't often think of the pejorative context of it, but it was such an intimate crime.

GLAUDE: Yeah. Yeah. You know, just to think about it, just in terms of our history, people knew who killed Emmett Till. They knew who threw him in the river. And they were quiet. People knew the McMichaels. Think about the phone call. Think about what Jackie Johnson said to him. Think about the choices made prior to the protests, prior to the video being released. And they went about their lives. The intimacy of our hatreds is in some ways the fuel - right? - to the deep racism that defines - right? - American life. It's not - of course, it's structure. But it's also the day-to-day choices that we make, you know?

MARTIN: Yesterday, you tweeted about this verdict saying, quote, "now we must navigate the complex difference between being thankful and the expectation of gratitude." Can you explain that?

GLAUDE: Yeah. So, you know, we're thankful for the decision. But this tendency for us to want to pat ourselves on the back as a country also leads us to believe that Black people should be grateful that we actually did the right thing. And no, we can't do that. That's the sign of an adolescent. We need to be better.

MARTIN: Professor Eddie Glaude Jr., we so appreciate you taking the time today. Thank you so much.

GLAUDE: Thank you and happy Thanksgiving.

MARTIN: Happy Thanksgiving.

(SOUNDBITE OF BOLA'S "MAGHELLEN") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.