Caring About the Murder of Ahmaud Arbery

Black men are being stalked and killed in the US–business as usual. Ahmaud Arbery’s murder was based on: “He’s a black man running down our road.” Punishment for the crime of being black is sometimes death.

Video footage has surfaced to challenge the citizen’s-arrest-self-defense narrative. Of course, prosecutors were reluctant to charge the former law enforcement officer and his son over the fatal shooting; we’ve heard the lines of “imminent threat,” and “I was afraid for my life,” many times, usually they are accepted without question.

It would be deja vu if one only had flashbacks to 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, who was stalked and killed for being black while getting a bag of Skittles. In this case the jury accepted George Zimmerman’s contention that he killed Martin in self-defense; the jury believed Martin, armed with candy, presented immediate danger.

This is relived day-after-day, like the movie “Groundhog Day,” the cycle is never-ending. My political awakening happened with the Rodney King beating March 3rd, 1991 and the subsequent Los Angeles riots when officers who beat the motionless King were acquitted in April 1992. I had my eyes opened to the truth minority communities have always known.

When I lived in Georgia my African-American housemate asked me, “do you ever worry about having tinted windows?” I inherited a car with really dark window tint—probably illegal—but I answered that I wouldn’t worry about getting it fixed until I got a ticket or something. He told me that he always felt like he needed to drive as if he were in a brightly visible aquarium, because cops (or white vigilantes) seeing hands on the steering wheel could be a matter of life and death.

Caring about the deaths of innocent people, like Ahmaud Arbery, should not be delegated to just those who could imagine it happening to themselves. Some parents I know have to give their children survival strategies that I never had to worry about as a white boy, and they know the extra steps may still not be good enough.

We must socialize ourselves to understand the conditions and structures of violence, especially as it intersects with racism, in our country. The fact that one of the murderers (yes, I am supposed to say “alleged” at this point but the video and the shooters’ admissions sent me past that) was former law enforcement and should have known better is one stark example. If those who have taken sworn oaths of service deliver such brutally unfair treatment, then all moral people should be united in outrage. It is time stand-your-ground-style laws stopped providing cover for racist executions—the modern-day lynching.

There is a great need for examining the deep history of prejudice and the failure in atoning and reconciling with the injustice. The contemporary racial animus is part of this painful tradition. Confederate flags were waved as hate symbols in defiance of a black President, his successor was allowed to call him a foreigner and demand a birth certificate (all publicly available evidence proved Obama’s citizenship); the point was clear, “American” and “White” were synonymous. It is not a coincidence that Arbery was murdered in a neighborhood with “several homes … decorated with Trump flags, one bearing the president’s smiling face with the phrase, ‘Make liberals cry again.’”

It is not a “race card” to acknowledge terrorism. I’ve listened to a colleague explain about a grandmother who died of appendicitis while she was transported from a “whites only” hospital to one that served “colored people.” Appendicitis is easily treatable, appendicitis did not kill her, a system designed to terrorize black communities did. Ahmaud Arbery went out for a jog and was killed by the same system. It has been 10 weeks and charges are finally filed. The family and all of us have a right to expect a functioning legal system that cannot tolerate blatant crime like this.

We can all affirm that Black Lives Matter (yes, all lives matter, but Blue Lives and White Lives always have, the term Black Lives Matter is really Black Lives Also Matter, though they haven’t much in the past). The murderers need to be brought to justice and those who have aided and abetted them with support should be pushed out of positions of public trust. We can take meaningful steps to address the inequities threaded from centuries of slavery and decades of Jim Crow to our painful present. We can stop demanding that the victims provide proof that the murderers are not burdened by. Ahmaud Arbery deserved better. Please let us make certain in our United States of America that his life mattered. As his tearful mother told reporters, “He had plans; he had dreams.”

Wim Laven has a PhD in International Conflict Management, he teaches courses in political science and conflict resolution, and is on the Executive Boards of the International Peace Research Association and the Peace and Justice Studies Association.