Why do white people need video? Why does the white justice system refuse to even consider taking action against the destroyers of black lives unless there is video? Why do we have to wait until the entire black community can be traumatized by video evidence of a lynching before some white people are moved to act?
By now, many have seen the lynching of Ahmaud Arbery. Arbery, a 25-year-old African American, was shot dead in Glynn County, Ga., by a father-and-son team of racists who suspected he had committed burglaries in the area. In reality Arbery was jogging through his own neighborhood, in broad freaking daylight. The video shows the two men chasing Arbery in their truck, stopping him, scuffling with him, and then shooting him dead as he tried to run away.
The two men who murdered Arbery, Gregory McMichael, 64, and his 34-year-old son, Travis McMichael, have not been arrested.
The video is sickening. Watch it yourself if you don’t believe me. And if you’re white, you may not, because I’m merely a black man trying to explain the acknowledged facts of the case.
The thing to remember is that this video, which was leaked this week, contains no new information. Arbery was shot dead on February 23. Police have had everything they’ve needed to arrest these men since then. That’s because the McMichaels’ own “official” story is an admission of crime.
According to the police, Gregory McMichael was standing in his front yard as Arbery ran past. (Arbery’s family contends that Ahmaud was taking a run, which he regularly did.) McMichael determined that Arbery “looked like a suspect” in a string of burglaries in his neighborhood.
Let me stop the police narrative right there. You’re telling me that a 64-year-old white man sees a black man running past his house, uses his white man clairvoyance to determine that the black man is a “suspect,” ends up shooting that black man dead, and he’s not arrested at the scene of the crime?
If the McMichaels’ story doesn’t already seem ridiculous to you, just flip the races. Imagine a black guy like me tried to sell this story to a cop: “Well, officer, I was outside watering my tulips when this young white guy just comes running past my home in broad daylight. He matched the description of nearly every suspect in every mass shooting I’ve ever seen. Eventually, me and my boy caught him and shot him to death. In, uhh, self-defense. Just doing my part, officer. You’re welcome.”
In any event, Gregory McMichael’s official story is that he called on his son, Travis, to join him in a chase of this “suspect.” They grabbed their guns, hopped in their truck, and rode Arbery down in an attempt to make a “citizen’s arrest.” It’s worth noting that citizen’s arrest prerogatives in Georgia apply only to citizens who actually witness the perpetrator of a crime, at the crime scene. The law does not allow a posse of men to pursue a suspect through the streets with weapons.
The McMichaels claimed that as they neared Arbery, they shouted, “Stop, stop… we want to talk to you!” Wouldn’t you know, this black guy continued to try to run away from two armed white men chasing him in a damn truck.
When they were finally able to corral Arbery, a struggle ensued. Gregory McMichael left the truck and Arbery tried to get his shotgun, which is precisely what I would do if I were being chased by a lynch mob. Arbery failed, one of the McMichaels shot at him. Arbery tried to run away again, but Travis McMichael fired a second shot with his .357 magnum revolver from the flatbed of his truck. And killed him.
Their official story marks them as killers. They drove after a black man who was literally running away. They caught up to him and initiated a confrontation. And by their own admission, they used deadly force against an unarmed individual, twice.
Even if you somehow think their story leaves open the possibility of “self-defense,” even if you think their story is closer to “manslaughter” than murder, there is simply no excuse for these men to have been left free on their own recognizance. They should have been arrested on the spot. You don’t need to see the video (which clearly shows Arbery running away when they fire the shot that killed him) to know that these men should be charged with a crime.
Of course, they weren’t arrested or charged. And they still haven’t been, even now after the video’s release. Because in addition to the dripping white privilege that the McMichaels enjoyed to help them escape arrest at the scene of their crime, the McMichaels also have friends in the prosecutor’s office.
The Arbery case is on its third district attorney since he was killed in February. It turns out that Gregory McMichael is (wait for it) a former police officer and used to work as an investigator in the district attorney’s office.
The first DA assigned to the case recused himself because he used to work with McMichael. The second DA assigned was forced to recuse because his son used to work in the office McMichael worked in. But on his way out, that DA, George Barnhill, wrote a letter saying there wasn’t probable cause to arrest the McMichaels because they were legally carrying their firearms and Georgia allows for citizen arrests. The only law that should apply here is the Emmett Till Anti-Lynching Act. But of course the Republican Senate hasn’t gotten around to passing that.
The current DA on the case, Tom Durden, still hasn’t issued an arrest warrant for the McMichaels. But he announced this week that he would send the case up to a grand jury. He made that decision after the video was leaked. Video that Tom Durden had for at least a month before it was made available to the public.
With the video comes the outrage. With the video comes the willingness of the white justice system to engage in some performative concern over the death of Ahmaud Arbery.
But make no mistake, George and Travis McMichael described in their own words how they executed a lynching. The police didn’t care. The prosecutors didn’t care. The governor didn’t care. If there weren’t video of the event, no white person in a position of authority would care.
I don’t know why it takes video. I don’t know how many black men are buried while their killers walk free because nobody happened to record their final, terrifying moments as they succumbed to unrelenting white supremacy. I don’t know why white people must be titillated by the snuff films of murdered blacks before some of them are willing to consider the notion of justice.
I also know that video isn’t enough. Video only makes white people shake their heads and mutter platitudes about the need for investigations and trials. Video only makes white people marvel at the wanton destruction of black lives. Video is not enough to make white people put a stop to the killings. Video won’t make white people change their laws, change their votes, or change their implicit biases when they see a black man jogging past their homes.
White people will forget about this video, soon. There was video of Stephon Clark being shot 20 times, and his killers were never charged. There was video of Alton Sterling being shot to death, and his killers were never charged. There was video of Terence Crutcher being shot to death; his killer was acquitted. I could go on and on with names of black people who were shot dead on video and whom most white people have forgotten about.
Black people don’t need to see the video to know Ahmaud Arbery was lynched, and that we might be next.