Another day, another hashtag.
Ahmaud Arbery, 25, was jogging through a neighborhood in Brunswick, Georgia on February 23, 2020 when former police officer Gregory McMichael and his son, Travis, chased Arbery down and killed him. Gregory and Travis later told police they suspected Arbery of being connected to recent break-ins in the area. So far there have been no charges filed against Arbery’s killers. His mother, Wanda Cooper, appeared on CNN this past Sunday asserting he was unarmed and that she never feared for him while jogging since he never bothered anyone.
A video of this encounter began circulating on social media on Tuesday, sparking outrage from many who believe justice has yet to be served. The video footage, taken by an unidentified witness, shows Arbery jogging down a two-lane road before being confronted by Gregory and Travis in a white pickup truck. Arbery is later seen struggling with one of the men holding a long gun while the other has a revolver. Shots are heard and he stumbles before falling onto the asphalt. This visual seemingly contradicts a story given by Gregory, who reportedly told police that he and Travis asked Arbery to stop running so they could speak with him. They furthermore claimed to have grabbed their guns while following Arbery because the two feared he was armed.
The circumstances leading to Arbery’s death and subsequent reaction is an all-too-familiar story in the US. One in which Blacks are hunted like animals for sport and their killers go free — an evolved form of poaching where one who takes Black life gains an invisible badge of honor. A similar story occurred almost eight years to the date when Black teenager Trayvon Martin was killed by Florida neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman on February 26, 2012. Martin was merely walking to his father’s fiancé’s house, but Zimmerman felt he looked suspicious. Zimmerman was later found not guilty of second-degree murder and acquitted of manslaughter.
Another point to consider in Arbery’s murder is that Blacks must often police their actions as some form of survival tactic. Just last year a White woman called the police on a Black man who was seeking out a parking spot, claiming he looked at her “suspiciously” and took photos of both her and her son. In 2018, a White woman called the police on an 8-year-old Black girl selling water on a San Francisco sidewalk. More recently Black people have been reluctant to wear facemasks despite being disproportionately affected by coronavirus for fear of being perceived as criminal or suspicious. Many other harmless activities outside of the examples given have been weaponized against this demographic, at times resulting in death or despair. Given the circumstances surrounding Arbery’s death, Black people might as well add “jogging while Black” to the mix.
Adding insult to injury — or rather mortality — in the case of Arbery’s murder, video of his final moments has been circulated for all to see. Once again this is a common occurrence in the killings of numerous Black people, chiefly Black men, by both law enforcement and White citizens — murderers — who feel compelled to play judge, jury, and executioner. The deaths of Terence Crutcher, Walter Scott, Atatiana Jefferson, Alton Sterling, Eric Garner, Markeis McGlockton, Philando Castile, and countless others have been filmed and shared for public viewing annually. Blacks are continuously enraged and terrified by these videos as they circulate online and in mainstream media. At times video seems necessary to prove Black innocence. Still, one must ask how the sharing of such imagery impacts the psyche of the community affected?
The saying racism is alive and well does nothing to ease the Black community’s pain, fear of being hunted, or sadness at not being valued on American soil. Ironically, outgroups — including police — who stereotype Blacks as dangerous or animalistic behave as such toward Black people. Arbery’s death is another tragedy in Black history; American history. The aftermath of this may include symbolic gestures as was the case with LeBron James and other NBA players wearing “I Can’t Breathe” t-shirts following the death of Eric Garner, who was heard saying this on video while being choked to death by New York City police officers in 2014. Some will likely take part in peaceful demonstrations to once again raise awareness, all while shouting Black lives matter. Moreover, there have been and will continue being demands for Gregory and Travis’ arrests. Even if the two are jailed their ability to walk free months after murdering Arbery is inexcusable.
To Black people Arbery’s murder is like salt in a wound. But what becomes of a wound when overloaded? Does it still sting, or will something more happen? In his famous Letter from a Birmingham Jail, Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. penned “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” Can the same be said of unwarranted Black death? What will become of these injustices? History shows violence, one in which innocent lives are impacted, can occur as a result. This was seen with the LA Riots in 1992 and Baltimore Riots in 2015. More closely related to the matter of Blacks being wrongfully murdered, specifically by Whites, was army veteran Micah Johnson’s decision to shoot and kill five Dallas police officers in 2016. Reportedly, Johnson wanted to kill White people and was driven to attack by incidents in which police officers were unlawfully killing Black men.
There is only so much prayer, spreading of awareness, and conversation surrounding race relations in America one can take. Enslaved Blacks prayed for freedom. Blacks are still praying. Awareness of Black mistreatment was spread in 1965 via the Selma to Montgomery march. Blacks are still spreading awareness. American media personality Phil Donahue hosted forums on race relations during the early 90s. Blacks still converse about race relations. Since merely existing seems to be a crime for Blacks in the US what more can be done to ensure their safety? One thing is for certain. A growing animosity is brewing among the affected party. Yesterday, contributing editor for Maclean’s Magazine Andray Domise tweeted:
“OK so here’s the thing about asking me if I’m interested in writing about the killing of Ahmaud Arbery. You’re probably not prepared to publish my thoughts on the matter, which can be summed up as “Start shooting back.””
Revisiting the “salt in a wound” analogy, perhaps there is another more fitting. Instead, consider a covered pot of water on a stove. Each instance of wrongful Black death — or even the threat of harm, for that matter — raises the temperature on this stovetop. It is only a matter of time before the water boils over.