As a lifelong activist, a father and a pastor for more than 20 years, I have struggled on many occasions to reconcile my deep, abiding faith in God’s promise to “keep and never forsake us” with the trauma and anxiety associated with witnessing injustice after injustice when it comes to the value of Black lives in this country.
I have prayed with so many families, counseling them to have faith and trust in God while also preparing their hearts – and mine – to deal with the seemingly inevitable disappointment of a system that too often subtracts Black people out of the equation of fair and equal justice for all.
Yet Wednesday, as I watched guilty verdicts announced for the three individuals charged with murdering Ahmaud Arbery, I allowed myself a moment of solemn contentment and hope that perhaps we, as a country, were moving closer to realizing the promise of America to mete out blind justice.
Without question, the guilty verdicts are an important step forward for accountability in Georgia and in this country, but we must stay vigilant and appreciate the context of this moment without falling victim to hyperbole and overstatements that would establish this outcome as evidence of a post-racial America.
In no way should this glimmer of justice deny the family of Arbery some level of resolve. But we know that our broken judicial system is strapped by laws that enable and embolden bad actors, whether in South Georgia or elsewhere. The tears, the sorrow, the loss – all were avoidable. A life was denied an opportunity to thrive. So, while we hear the bells of justice ringing, we must not go deaf to the undeniable miscarriage of justice that happens across this nation daily.
We do each other and the entire country a disservice if we forget all that had to be overcome just to have this case get to the courtroom. Arbery was murdered on Feb. 23, 2020. Video of the incident had been circulating among law enforcement, yet an arrest was not made for 74 days. In addition, it took the appointment of a fourth prosecutor – Joyette Holmes, Cobb County’s district attorney – to get an indictment in the case.
And even as the trial began, as one of the key defense attorneys called for Black pastors to be kept out of the courtroom, it became more apparent than ever the need for our community, anchored by our faith, to come together to support a mother, father, other family members and friends who lost a loved and were forced to relive their personal nightmares for days on end. While I join the chorus of people cheering after hearing the litany of guilty verdicts being announced, I am still anguished by the notion that we will be here again.
As long as too many of our fellow citizens and neighbors are led by their prejudice, bigotry and intolerance and we are governed by a criminal justice system that is too white, too male, too antiquated, and so rigidly structured to the detriment of Black people, we are certain to be here again.
This moment calls for us to delve deeper and with more resolve to address the systemic inequities of our criminal justice system. As a community and as a nation, we can’t spare the potential of greatness that we lose every time an Arbrey is struck down. His life and too many lives prematurely extinguished by hate and violence hold so much promise for their families and their communities. That is what brought pastors, bishops and faith leaders of all stripes to pray at the courthouse in Brunswick, Georgia.
We knew this time had to be different and justice had to show its face to this family, this community and this country.
Georgia’s most heralded son, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., eloquently stated that “the moral arc of the universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” Today, we bent the arc a little more in the favor of justice and tomorrow as we gather around our holiday tables, we will be thankful that a portion of justice has been served.
At the heart of this moment, we embrace this glimmer of justice served in this verdict but realize our efforts cannot cease as we work to uproot systemic racism in our nation.
I want to commend the many pastors, bishops and faith leaders of all stripes who stood with Arbery’s family and the Brunswick community throughout this process. Let this be confirmation that there is power in unity and that we must work and walk together as we fight for an America as good as its promise.
Rev. Jamal-Harrison Bryant serves as Senior Pastor at New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in Stonecrest, Georgia. He is an author, philanthropist and activist. He was one of many pastors who gathered outside of the courthouse during the trial in the Arbery murder case.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Murder verdict in Ahmaud Arbery death is a step toward equal justice