The killing of Ahmaud Arbery was an injustice and a direct assault on our humanity. The known facts alone tell us he should not be dead. He was an unarmed man, confronted by two armed men who chased him down.
Whatever happened before or thereafter is all but immaterial. Arbery did not provoke the encounter. Arbery was not armed. Arbery is dead. There is no justification that fits those facts. To be a black American is to be justly weary and enraged at what has happened, yet again. Every American should feel the same.
That rage boils up not simply from the fact that two white men, a father and a son, apparently decided it was their duty to get into a pickup truck and cut off Arbery as he went for a jog. It rises not just from the fact that it was their actions, not his, that led to his death.
No, the deep rage draws from the way our justice system reacted after Travis McMichael brandished a shotgun and he and his father, Gregory, armed with a .357-caliber pistol, ordered Arbery to stop on a two-lane street. One of them then fired what appears to have been a warning shot. When Arbery defended himself with his bare hands, Travis McMichael’s shotgun ended his life.
Arbery was shot dead on Feb. 23, in the early afternoon. It wasn’t until late on the evening of May 7 — after the emergence of a shocking video of his killing — that the McMichaels were charged with murder. And there is reason enough to believe that, absent the insistence of Arbery’s mother, those charges never would have been filed.
In fact, we know that as early as Feb. 24 — one day after Arbery was killed — the district attorney in Glynn County Georgia had determined there were no grounds for arrest. One day. An unarmed man dead in the road. One day.
How do we know that? Because District Attorney George E. Barnhill explained as much in a letter to the Glynn County Police Department. In the letter, Barnhill dismissed the results of Arbery’s autopsy and the evidence on a recording of the killing. He said they simply confirmed an opinion drawn on Feb. 24 that the McMichaels had acted in accordance with Georgia law.
Everything about Barnhill’s conclusions in the case gives every allowance to the McMichaels and none to Arbery. He is all but presumed guilty in his death. In the letter, Barnhill expresses frustration that Arbery’s mother had the temerity to insist that Barnhill recuse himself. “She sees a conflict in that my son works in the Brunswick District Attorney’s Office where Greg McMichael retired some time ago.”
We can only imagine her rage, her grief and her sense of both mission and helplessness.
That sense is shared among black Americans and among anyone who believes justice should be universally applied when a system, through all of its actions, appears hostile to fairness and to the blindness to race it promises.
If not for the video that emerged in the public eye, would the McMichaels be charged today? There is too much history of injustice to dismiss the question, and there are enough facts in this case to reasonably believe only public pressure compelled the authorities to pursue justice.
FROM AN EDITORIAL IN THE DALLAS MORNING NEWS