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'I Have to Be Ahmaud's Voice': Mother Seeks Justice for Son Gunned Down in Georgia Neighborhood

Wanda Cooper-Jones

On February 23, 2020, a group of white men shot and killed a black man as he jogged through their South Georgia neighborhood. Three men are charged with the murder of Ahmaud Arbery and await trial. One year later, Arbery's mother, Wanda Cooper-Jones, remains resolved to see the legal process through to the end. 

"Ahmaud was my baby boy," Cooper-Jones said. "He was a momma's boy and I never thought that he would leave like this.

The mother has not watched the cell phone video of her 25-year-old son's last few moments of life. She says she's not yet strong enough to see what she calls a demonstration of evil.

"It's a feeling I never felt before," she says. "I never want to feel it again."

According to the old saying: time heals all wounds. As she looks back over the past year, Cooper-Jones is not finding that to be true.

"It's getting harder because in the beginning there were a whole lot of interviews and I think basically I was in shock," Cooper-Jones says. "I was numb. I was in a numb state."

But that's no longer the case as now she feels everything.

"I've lost part of myself and I'm getting a reality check of that every day," the mother says.

On February 23, 2020, Arbery was jogging through the Satilla Shores neighborhood near Brunswick, Georgia. When he was spotted by Greg and Travis McMichael, investigators say the father-son duo went after Arbery in their truck. A neighbor, William Roddie Bryan, followed along capturing it on cell phone video. The McMichaels claimed they thought Arbery was a neighborhood burglar and when they caught up to him, the video shows Travis firing three shots, the last during a struggle, before the jogger collapsed.

Cooper-Jones says on the initial phone call, authorities said her son had been involved in a burglary, that a struggle ensued over a weapon, and that he'd been shot and killed.

"He wasn't armed, and he didn't have any stolen goods in his possession, so why was he killed?" Cooper-Jones questions. "I believe Ahmaud was killed because he was black. Satilla Shores is a predominately white neighborhood."

She believes her suspicions were confirmed during a later court proceeding when a detective testified about what defendant and videographer William Bryan says he heard co-defendant Travis McMichael say right after pulling the trigger.

"He heard Travis McMichael make the statement f***ing ni**er," the detective testified.

"I didn't realize hate was that close to where I was raising my kids," Cooper-Jones said. "I didn't realize that type of hate was so close."

Just weeks ago, police bodycam video emerged with Travis McMichael explaining how this attempt at talking turned deadly.

"If he would have stopped this wouldn't have happened," McMichael explained to an officer on scene.

"The McMichaels or Mr. Bryan were not trying to have a conversation," Cooper-Jones said. "The moment they grabbed those guns they intended to use those guns." 

The McMichaels and Bryan are in jail awaiting trial on murder charges.

Arbery's mother says it's taken a lot of faith to see the case this far. After the shooting happened last February, she frantically made phone calls seeking justice. The case stalled for two months bouncing around from one district attorney to another. She couldn't even get a civil attorney to call her back.

"At the end of each day I prayed, I prayed," Cooper-Jones said. "I knew, I knew. When I didn't know, but I knew He would come through. And it worked out just like I said and He brought us through."

Finally, an attorney took her case. Then it exploded onto the national scene in May after Bryan's cell phone video made it to the media. Crowds demonstrated across the country.

"Major turning point because I do believe without the video we would not have arrests today," Cooper-Jones said. "I will tell anybody to trust God, just trust Him because He will see you through."

As for the defendants, she has strong feelings.

"The Bible speaks of evildoers, and they just were evildoers," she says. "I want them to go to jail forever. They need to pay for what they've done."

Curiously though, this mother says she does have a question she wishes she could ask the elder McMichael, parent-to-parent.

"What did you guys discuss at the dinner table when he was a child?" she wonders. "What did you guys talk about? Was it love thy neighbor? Any type of love? Because you failed him. You failed him."

She says she will not fail to do her level best to get justice for her son.

"My last words to Ahmaud were 'we will find out what happened," the mother said. "Each time Ahmaud's name is called in court, I will be in court. I have to be Ahmaud's voice. Ahmaud's not here."

Cooper-Jones tells me her son had some troubles in past years and was working through them. In fact, she says, jogging was therapeutic for him. In the aftermath of the shooting, Cooper-Jones has sold her home and moved from South Georgia. She no longer felt safe there because of threats against her family. 

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