You’re jogging around a neighborhood nearby to blow off steam, exercise, just to get out of the house or all of the above. You figure you’ll be back home in 40 minutes, take a nice hot shower and carry on with the day. But instead, your day ends with you wrapped up in a body bag. Why? You were just shot and killed by two white men. They thought you were a burglary suspect. Now if you were white, would your killers have been able to spend two months sleeping in their clean beds while you were nailed stone cold in your coffin? Certainly not. But when you’re black, it is ok. This was the incredibly sad reality of Ahmaud Arbery. The 25-year-old black man was shot and killed by two white men; 34-year-old Travis McMichael, and his father, 64-year-old Gregory McMichael in February. And after two months, law enforcement is now starting to do something about it.
Ahmaud Arbery was the 25-year-old native to Brunswick, Georgia and as a former high school football player, he liked to stay active and often went jogging by his home. On Sunday, February 23rd, Mr. Arbery was out for a jog in the suburban neighborhood of Satilla Shores when he was spotted by his killers, George and Travis McMichael. George McMichael told police that he thought Arbery looked like the suspect who had been accused of several break-ins in the neighborhood. The McMichaels grabbed two guns out of their home and proceeded to follow Arbery in their pick up truck. William "Roddie" Bryan, a neighbor of the McMichaels recorded the sickening video that has now been released and he is also being investigated. The video shows when the McMichaels pick up truck approaches Mr. Arbery, he jogs around it and briefly disappears from the view. Travis McMichael and Mr. Arbery then struggle over the McMichaels’s shotgun on the side of the truck when three blasts echo. Mr. Arbery then collapses and falls to the ground. He was unarmed.
Mr. Arbery’s mother, Wanda Cooper Jones, said the police called her after her son had died and said that her son had been involved in a burglary before the incident. This was due to numerous phone calls made to 911 earlier about seeing a black man in the same neighborhood, at a home under construction and that he was “running down the street”. Family and friends do not believe Arbery was the one who committed the burglaries because he was on a jog and carried nothing on him. When officials asked Mr. Arbery’s father about his son being involved in the burglary, he said it was "just a lie and a cover-up" and "Check that lynch mob out." This will be a sad Mother's Day for Mr. Arbery's mother, whose son was born on Mother's Day in 1994. Ms. Cooper Jones described her son as her "baby boy" and "his sister and brother's keeper."
When my parents first showed me the video of Ahmaud Arbery I was baffled at what I saw. Mr. Arbery was only 25-years-old. He had hopes, dreams, and people who cared about him. Even if the McMichaels thought Mr. Arbery was the burglary suspect on the news, just by seeing him for a split second, who are you to hunt this man down? Cold-blooded murders should not get the luxury of enjoying their precious lives free at home for two whole months.
Often in small country America, there is an everyone knows everyone type feel, and with Gregory McMichael being a former Glynn county police officer he already had a leg up by knowing law enforcement. The first district attorney who previously led the investigation, Jackie Johnson, recused herself because Gregory McMichael was a retired investigator from her office. The second prosecutor, George E. Barnhill, recused himself due to conflicts of interest. He commented “Under Georgia law, that is perfectly legal”, referring to the McMichaels and Bryan’s actions. Another issue we often see in cases like this, which largely happen in Southern states, are the ridiculous gun laws. For example, in the Trayvon Martin case the “Stand Your Ground Law” (which Georgia also has), made George Zimmerman’s actions “justifiable” in Florida. In times like these little policies and laws can make or break a case and determine what is “right” or “wrong”. The case is now being led by Atlantic Judicial Circuit District Attorney Tom Durden who wanted the case to go to a grand jury, but that may take months since Georgia’s courts are currently closed due to COVID-19.
Yesterday, May 8th would have been Mr. Arbery’s 26th birthday. Since there can’t be a national protest due to the Coronavirus, thousands across the country ran or walked 2.3 miles in honor of Mr. Arbery, sharing the hashtag #IRunWithMaud. The idea for the protest came from John Vaughn, Mr. Arbery’s high school football coach, who last crossed paths with Mr. Arbery while running. My family walked the 2.3 miles in honor of Mr. Arbery yesterday. Having parents that never fail to educate my siblings and I about matters happening to our community has taught me that you can never go silent on such pressing issues. Each and every voice matters. Whether you reposted a picture of Mr. Arbery on your Instagram, did the 2.3 mile walk or wrote a blog post, you are making sure Ahmaud’s life will not go in vain.
On Friday, Trump said the video of Mr. Arbery was "very, very, disturbing," but suggested that there "could be something that we didn't see on tape”. I can't say I wouldn't expect Trump to be in doubt of the video since he cares a lot more about his Republican following than the black community.
As many have said, the black man is an endangered species. I might not have known Ahmaud Arbery, but his case speaks enormous levels to me. It shakes me to my core knowing that my dad, little brother, uncles, grandpa, and the rest of the African American community can never feel safe. No matter what we do we'll always have a target on our backs. As a race, we have come incredibly far and the fight doesn't end here. Will the courts let us down once again ? I truly don't know. Mr. Arbery’s case might take months before it goes in front of a judge, but we can not let his story be forgotten. The American civil rights attorney, Benjamin Crump, is currently the lawyer for the Arbery family and has been a very active speaker against the unjust killings of black men. The #IRunWithMaud walk has already shown that people can still come together even while we are all in quarantine. The McMichaels were arrested this past Thursday, and I hope they won't ever be able to walk free again for what they did. I may just be a 14 year old, but my words have just as much value and I always plan to use my blog as a platform to say my piece and never hold back. #IRunWithMaud.