Justice in case of 25-year-old black male delayed amid COVID-19 response. Apparently in Georgia bowling and tattooing are more essential.
Ben Crump Opinion Contributor
Imagine for a moment that two black men with rifles jumped out of a pickup in a residential neighborhood and shot to death a white jogger because they suspected him of committing a crime.
Imagine the fury of justice that would rain down upon them. Chances are they would not even live to stand trial but more likely would be gunned down by police, viewed as too dangerous to be taken alive.
Now reverse the races of the players in this tragedy, and you have the Ahmaud Arbery case. When the victim is a black man and the shooters are white, justice plays out quite differently and excruciatingly slowly, if at all.
When father and son Gregory and Travis McMichael saw a young black man jogging down the middle of the road on Feb. 23, they assumed he was the person responsible for a string of neighborhood burglaries. After all, he was black. Rather than calling law enforcement to report their suspicions, they appointed themselves Arbery’s judge, jury and executioner.
It’s so reminiscent of the motivations for lynchings, which claimed more than 3,400 black lives from 1882 to 1968: A crime was committed or suspected; black people were rounded up and murdered. Justice was done — white justice, the only justice that mattered.
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When police arrived at the scene of Arbery’s killing, they took the word of the suspected killers, who said they believed Arbery was a criminal and they feared for their lives. That was the extent of the investigation. For well over two months, the McMichaels enjoyed their freedom while Arbery’s parents endured the worst pain imaginable.
Only after a video surfaced revealing the horrific slaughter and public pressure mounted, did the prosecutor elect to turn over the case to a grand jury. After 74 long days, on the eve of what would have been Arbery’s 26th birthday, the McMichaels were finally arrested and charged with murder.
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Still under investigation is the McMichaels’ apparent associate, William Bryan, who was driving behind the pair and captured the video documenting the confrontation and Arbery’s death.
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Prosecutors cited COVID-19 as the reason for the languorous pace of justice: After all, the courts are closed until June 12 — the soonest a grand jury could be empaneled. Apparently in Georgia, unlike tattooing, bowling and hair styling, the disposition of justice is not deemed an essential service.
In the meantime, we must wait and depend on a criminal justice system that has a long history of devaluing black lives and delivering justice in disparate doses, depending on the skin color of the victim and the accused.
Even those who use the time to peacefully protest will do so at their own peril. Social distancing is another one of those things being enforced differently for blacks and whites. Here’s one example that’s playing out in similar fashion across the country: Of the 40 people arrested in Brooklyn for violating social distancing requirements between March 17 and May 4, 35 were black, only one was white. Apparently, it’s more dangerous when black people get together.
And those who follow the rules and wear a mask risk being racially profiled, like the Miami doctor handcuffed by police as he loaded a van with supplies and equipment. The doctor was helping homeless people get tested for COVID-19.
Like Trayvon Martin before him, Arbery’s death touched a nerve, awakening Americans to the reality that the rules are different for black and white people. Walking a mile in a black person’s shoes should be seen as an important wake-up call — one that is so very dangerous.
Ben Crump is a civil rights attorney and founder of the national law firm Ben Crump Law, based in Tallahassee, Florida. Crump is representing the Arbery family.
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