Ahmaud Arbery’s Killers Were Charged With Murder. Now The Slow March To Justice Begins.
It took three months, gut-wrenching cell phone video, and national outrage, but the Georgia father-son lynching duo of Gregory and Travis McMichael was finally arrested for hunting down Ahmaud Arbery and killing him in broad daylight. The 25-year-old black man was out for a jog on February 23 in the Satilla Shores neighborhood of Brunswick, Georgia, when the McMichaels spotted him. They believed Arbery fit the description of a "suspect in a string of recent burglaries." This is probably why the police don't have people in a lineup run at a brisk trot through the station. The identifications are far less precise.
Gregory and Travis McMichael were each charged with murder and aggravated assault. Our thanks to prosecutor Tom Durden, who is actually prosecuting crimes regardless of the victim's race. Akeem Baker, a longtime friend of Arbery's, said he felt an “ounce of joy" from the news but was “still uneasy." This is the right take. In February of 2012, George Zimmerman stalked Trayvon Martin, who was walking home after a trip to a convenience store. Zimmerman called the Sanford, Florida, non-emergency line and reported Martin for the crime of "just walking around looking about." He (wrongly) assumed Martin was “up to no good" and connected to "some break-ins in [his] neighborhood." Like the McMichaels, Zimmerman chose to play vigilante but after the eventual confrontation, Martin and Arbery weren't just playing dead. That was quite real and permanent.
Both fatal shootings occurred because white men were obsessed with tracking down a suspected burglar. No one likes having their shit stolen, but is it worth someone dying over a laptop? The McMichaels were armed with a .357 magnum and a shotgun. They were prepared to kill. Currently, the nation is debating sending workers -- many of them people of color -- into COVID-19-infected waters. It's chilling the extent to which we prioritize the economy or even just property over human lives.
Zimmerman was eventually charged with second-degree murder in April 2012. The uneasiness I, as a black man, share with Akeem Baker comes from how quickly all the obvious evidence of murder was twisted to Zimmerman's benefit. It was a trial by gaslight. We contended that Zimmerman couldn't claim self-defense when he initiated the fatal encounter. Conservatives across the country instead argued on behalf of Zimmerman's freedom to ignore the emergency line dispatcher's request not to follow Martin. A 911 call captured the last few minutes of Martin's life. Martin was screaming and even cried out “stop!" before Zimmerman pulled the trigger. Zimmerman grossly claimed he was the one screaming in terror. A jury found that plausible.
Arbery is dead. He can't speak for himself at a trial. The jury won't know what he was thinking and feeling when armed white men cut him off in a pickup truck. Gregory and Travis McMichael are still alive and can pour on the waterworks. Gregory Michaels isn't a common neighborhood watch captain. He's a former police officer, and convicting even retired cops for killing black men is rare unless they've walked into the wrong apartment.
So, black people are rightly cautious after the McMichaels' arrest. We have miles to go before justice is achieved, and we won't sleep for a good long while. The senseless loss of life will haunt us, as well as the reactions from the public. This isn't just an act of random violence. It's a condemnation of an entire system. Gregory and Travis McMichael would likely have remained free if not for the video, but George E. Barnhill, an actual district attorney in Waycross, Georgia, reportedly saw the same video and still concluded that Arbery was the “aggressor" and Travis McMichael was justified in “using deadly force to protect himself." Barnhill later recused himself because of a conflict of interest -- both his son and Gregory McMichael worked for the Brunswick district attorney -- but there's no immediate evidence that Barnhill's opinion is a personal aberration.
That's a lot for the average white person to absorb. I've noticed some folks on social media completely losing it like Neo after he was pulled from the Matrix and confronted with the brutal truth of the real world.
The Matrix - Neo learns the truth; that he is nothing more than Narcissistic Supply. youtu.be
Many of the "newly awakened" will fight the good fight. I saw one college friend -- a lifelong Democrat who was always polite with conservative, Trump-supporting family and friends from Georgia -- straight-up dismiss one lady who was talking nonsense about this case. She didn't have time for this shit anymore.
Conservatives mostly embraced George Zimmerman. Matt Walsh for the Daily Wire passionately defended him as a victim of a “vengeful lynch mob." (Yes, he used those words.) This time, Walsh has argued that Arbery's shooting wasn't justified. That's .... something. Meanwhile, shrieking banshee Michelle Malkin has remained true to form. And some MAGA fools are questioning whether Arbery was really so innocent since he might've been wearing blue jean shorts, which no actual jogger would ever do. This might still break down among partisan lines, because for so many conservatives, ignorance is always bliss.
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Stephen Robinson is a writer and social kibbitzer based in Portland, Oregon. He's on the board of the Portland Playhouse theater and writes for the immersive theater Cafe Nordo in Seattle. Tickets are on sale now for his latest Nordo collaboration, "Curiouser and Curiouser," an adaptation of "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" and "Through the Looking Glass." It promises to feel like an actual evening with SER (for good or for ill).