A video, released last Tuesday, has gone viral and has become part of a grotesque, heartbreaking mosaic of videos depicting innocent, unarmed Black men shot to death.
On February 23, Ahmaud Arbery, age 25, a dedicated jogger from Brunswick Georgia, was jogging in a nearby subdivision called Satilla Shores, where Gregory McMichael, 64, and his son Travis, 34, are residents.
At approximately 1:00 P.M., Gregory spots Arbery jogging down the middle of the road, and after making a vague and muddled call to 911 stating that Arbery is a suspected burglar, both McMichaels pursue Arbery in a pickup truck with Travis driving and armed with a shotgun, and Gregory riding in the truck’s bed armed with a 357 magnum revolver. Following behind was a neighbor of the McMichaels’ named William Bryan, driving a separate vehicle. Bryan videoed the pursuit and its aftermath on his cell phone.
The McMichaels drive ahead of Arbery, who had begun to weave off and on the street in apparent realization of his peril. He then runs ahead of the pickup, which has stopped. At this point Travis is waiting for him and confronts him, shotgun in hand. The two men struggle and three shots are fired. Arbery takes a few feeble steps, then drops to the ground and dies shortly after.
Bryan had provided local law enforcement with the video, but prosecutors decided no crime had been committed. The county D.A., Jackie Johnson, prevented law enforcement from making arrests, according to reports. It was later disclosed that the elder McMichael was a former police officer who had worked as an investigator for several years in Johnson’s office. Peculiarly, McMichael had previously investigated Arbery for suspected burglaries, though no charges were filed.
The McMichaels claimed their actions were legal, as they were attempting a citizen’s arrest, but this holds no water as Arbery had not committed a crime. In the 911 call, the dispatcher asks what the suspect had done. The response was that he had looked inside an open building that was under construction, and now he was running down the street.
Yes, running down the street, as joggers are wont to do.
Finally, after mass outrage and incredulity upon the leak of the video on May 5th, The Georgia Bureau Of Investigation took over the case and the McMichaels were arrested and charged with murder and aggravated assault, two and a half months after the killing.
Did I say killing? Pardon my understated slip of the keyboard. I meant to say lynching.
Once again, without the video, the lynch mob of two (or three? We still don’t know what Bryan’s roll was) would enjoy impunity. A lynching, just like old times, perhaps the good old days as seen through the prism of the suspects, who, perhaps uncharitably, appear to be from central casting- tagged to appear in a remake of the film “Deliverance.” I wonder what their thoughts and feelings, if any, were for the two and a half months between the lynching and their arrest? Fear? Remorse? Elation?
Imagine if you can (and you can’t, anymore than you can imagine the sound of one hand clapping) a Black man and his son, spotting a suspicious looking White man blithely jogging down the road, who may or may not have been snooping around a construction site (can they be sure? These White fellows tend to look alike). Then, Black dad and son hop in their pickup with a Black friend in tow, corner the White man, and blow him away, and, sans video, it’s really not that big a deal.
And the bar continues to lower. Driving while Black has been eclipsed by jogging while Black.
The lynching of Ahmaud Arbery could happen anywhere, but the likelihood is greatest in one of the former Confederate states, where ancient hatreds are kept alive by many citizens and duplicitous law enforcement. These hatreds are part of a long, proud history. Trayvon Martin was lynched in Georgia’s neighboring state of Florida in the same month as Ahmaud Arbery eight years earlier. The hatred is hardwired into the bones and marrow of many (but not all) Southern White men, who cling to that hatred and a belief that lynching Blacks for little or no reason at all is their birthright. A birthright that is part of a barbaric, time honored tradition.