Of course, the “wrong” neighborhoods and streets are the predominantly white ones, many of whom are striving for an exclusively white community. Some people who live in these neighborhoods want their schools, restaurants, business owners, delivery men – and politicians – all to be white. They also want the criminal justice system to maintain white dominance in everything from the person holding the gavel in the bench to the person sitting in the jury box.
That is why the Arbery murder is such a setback; it is an example of classic racism branded in social institutions. Arrest laws for citizensand the criminal justice system correspondingly upholds and sanctions the protection of white communities from people who look like Arbery. These laws let people get to the heart of the perception of criminalization, and then use self-defense laws such as “Stand your point” to justify their use of force.
My research has focused on that Experiences of black men in predominantly white communities and their experiences with law enforcement and the criminal justice system. In a quantitative and qualitative study, I found that middle-class black men played sports much less often than others in predominantly white neighborhoods. That means they are much less likely to jog their own streets. Why? you Blackness is turned into a weapon. Even if they are unarmed and do not commit any crime, they are perceived as a threat – and this justifies surveillance and the use of force.
In situations similar to Ahmaud’s assassination, white people are more than eight times more likely to be found guilty when it comes to self defense when the victim is blackcompared to when the victim is not black. These killings suggest an important socio-psychological concept: subjective insecurity, which states that with minimal information, people rely on stereotypes to discriminate. In Ahmaud’s case, that discrimination led to murder.
The consequences of subjective uncertainty are not limited to killings. Rather, there is a trickle-down effect of criminalizing black lives. It spreads to black people who are called by the police. It enables people to treat them as suspects and track them in virtually every everyday aspect of their life: while traveling, playing sports, delivering packages for companies like Amazon, and visiting a new home or commercial property. My research shows how criminalization affects blacks’ mental and physical health, profession, and wealth-building ability.
When Arbery was murdered, the criminal justice system originally worked as planned. Every step of the prosecution process seemed to predict the likelihood that the McMichaels and Bryan would be exonerated.
First the The public prosecutor’s office initially advised the police not to make arrests. (A former district attorney is charged with her role in the Arbery case.) Second, the jury had a skewed racial makeup of the area (11 whites and one black in a district that is roughly 30 percent black). Third, a defense attorney tried unsuccessfully to ban black pastors from the courtroom and portray them as a threatening presence – yet another attempt to monitor black people in public spaces.
Apparently the mere presence of Revs. Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson, sitting quietly in the courtroom, posed a threat, much as Ahmaud’s very presence in Satilla Shores posed a threat.
Travis McMichael, who eventually shot Arbery, testified that he just wanted to talk to him and make a citizen arrest. Black people instinctively know that “we just wanted to talk to him” is the code for “we wanted to put him in his place”.
Taken together, these tales come straight from the hunter’s playbook and go back to the origins of the American police slave catchers and the founding of the Ku Klux Klan. These narratives are used to justify the treatment of blacks and to prevent them from truly experiencing the freedom guaranteed by the constitution. (And indeed, The Arrest Law of Georgia was originally used to catch enslaved people fleeing bondage.)
These narratives can play out in an eyebrow-like fashion, such as when a defense attorney described Arbery’s toenails as “long” and “dirty” and gasped in the courtroom and provoked outrage outside.
This is the heart of it. It’s not what Arbery did. It’s about who he was, how he looked – his chocolate skin was the greatest threat of all. Black people in white communities pose a threat. This is a narrative we’ve seen in popular culture, such as the classic film The Birth of a Nation.,“Which portrayed blacks in Congress as fools picking their toenails and violent beasts trying to rape innocent white women. In the film, the KKK saves the day from black people and blackness as an ideology. Although many people no longer wear white hoods, at least in public, the ideology of the KKK is ingrained in some local communities and has a deterrent effect on the objectivity of the criminal justice system.
But despite all of these classic racist tropes spreading in the courtroom, the outcome of this trial was different. Why? First, video is powerful. The jury watched the video of the murder at least three times at the end of the trial. Without the video Bryan shot and later released, most people would be unaware of the Arbery murder. The system would have worked as intended. In this case, fees may not even have been charged.
Second, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation was brought in to oversee the case. My research on police work also suggests this Supervision at the state or federal level contributes to greater transparency, Objectivity and accountability for criminal proceedings. This supervisory model was introduced in the Derek Chauvin ‘Trial for the murder of George Floyd. Another example of successful oversight: In Georgia, the Republican-led Legislators voted to repeal the Citizens Arrest Act of 1863. Given the history of these laws, other states should follow suit.
Taken together, the conviction of these three men and the jury who made that decision suggests that things may be for the better. The white man’s self-defense can no longer rule in our courtrooms. But then there is the 18-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse, whose self-defense claims led to his acquittal. (Though Rittenhouse killed two white men and injured a third, he shot them dead during a protest against Black Lives Matter, adding distinctly racist overtones to the shootings.)
While many rejoice that “the spirit of Ahmaud defeated the lynch mob,” as lawyer Ben Crump said, we must continue to work together to ensure that those who perpetuate unwarranted acts of vigilance are held accountable.