I live in the town where Ahmaud Arbery was murdered, and I’ve seen many things that I will not soon forget. About eighteen months ago, I stood at our courthouse—the one you saw on TV for weeks—with hundreds from our community all stunned at the video we could not unsee. We demanded Justice for Ahmaud and a change in Georgia’s citizen’s arrest law. And just a few weeks ago, I joined a quieter gathering of our local clergy and community at those courthouse steps as the sun rose over the oaks and the reporters set up cameras while the courthouse lights flicked on for another day of trial. We prayed for our town, all the families involved, justice, and healing. And when the hundreds of Black clergy assembled from across the nation to support the Arbery family, I joined my husband and other locals on the fringes.
I could share more of the moments etched in my mind, but what I’ll remember most is what I didn’t see. Let me explain.
My first hint came when I learned that our Black community affectionately called Linda Dunikoski, the lead prosecutor, “Auntie Linda.” On the night of the verdict, the phrase popped all over my social media. I wondered if Ahmaud’s own Aunt Theawanza started it, so I searched. That night, over 3,000 posts mentioned Auntie Linda. I recognized names from our local Black community, but many also posted from across the nation and most invited Linda Dunikoski to Thanksgiving dinner. “She can sit at the head of the table.” “She gets to carve the turkey.” “She can have the first scoop of mac and cheese.” Auntie Linda was everywhere, and Auntie Linda was family.
Then the week after the verdict, the absence became clearer when I listened to The Daily podcast, looking for insights into the prosecution’s strategy. The hosts commented on the risky and surprising choice to exclude the racial context of Ahmaud’s murder. I followed the trial closely and I remember: Dunikoski only mentioned race once, and it was a small note in her closing arguments. One of the podcast hosts wondered out loud if the family disapproved of the state’s handling of the trial. But his cohost explained, “Ahmaud Arbery’s family was extremely pleased with the way Ms. Dunikoski conducted herself in court before there was even a verdict. And from other conversations with African-American people in Brunswick, Georgia, after the verdict, you got this sense that for a lot of people it felt like a more poignant victory…”
A more poignant victory.
That’s when all the dots connected and I saw it: When the prosecution left race out of the trial, all that was left was equality, humanity, and dignity.
That is what I didn’t see. I did not see a trial about what white men can do to a Black man. Of course, race matters, and of course his murder was all about race. But by leaving it out, Dunikoski and her team dignified Ahmaud Arbery as a human. It was not about Ahmaud’s skin, but about his death. About his life. About his right to live. Full stop.
Of course, our Black community understood. They listened to Dunikoski speak of Ahmaud Arbery as a man of equal standing with other men—as it should be in the eyes of the court, as it should be in the eyes of our nation, and as it should have been that February afternoon in the quiet streets of the Satilla Shores neighborhood. And because of this, they trusted Dunikoski with a kind of trust that is often only extended to those closest to us—family—and called her Auntie to prove it.
But this is why it matters to me and why it should matter to all of us. As I watched Dunikoski guide the jury through the trial without focusing on categories and colors, she showed us all how the American judicial system should work, with equal rights, equal standing, and equal dignity.
I don’t know if Linda Dunikoski believes in the same already-but-not-yet Kingdom of God as I do, but all that I did not see in that courtroom reminded me. We are siblings, sons and daughters and children of God. And through the gatherings on our courthouse lawn, Auntie Linda’s strategy, the dignifying of a fellow human being, and the outpouring of Thanksgiving invites, I saw how we belong to one another—how we are all equal, how we are all family, and how we can live in an America with justice for all.