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Ahmaud Arbery's murder: A travesty in the making?

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Lee Merritt, a lawyer representing the Arbery family, poses for a photo by a mural in the likeness of Ahmaud Arbery in Dallas — Photo by Tony Gutierrez / AP
Lee Merritt, a lawyer representing the Arbery family, poses for a photo by a mural in the likeness of Ahmaud Arbery in Dallas — Photo by Tony Gutierrez / AP

The media has a history of painting a dangerous and violent picture of Black men, but for the majority of our nation's history, this wasn't the case. During slavery, the depiction of Black people, Black men particularly, was of a yielding, obedient character, childlike, blissfully ignorant, and content with their place in society. Enslaved people were rarely depicted as powerful or brutes for fear it would become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

This gentle image of Blackness ended after the Civil War when the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments to the Constitution gave newly freed Blacks social, economic, and political rights.

As Blacks built communities and schools and elected Black US senators, the growth in their power challenged white supremacy, and poor whites saw Blacks as competition in the labor force. This birthed the Jim Crow era, and thus the shift from Black people being seen as docile servants to being seen as brutes, thugs, and a threat to the way of life white people had become accustomed to.

Since then, our country has acquired a nasty taste for criminalizing Black victims and using irrelevant information from their pasts to influence trials meant to bring the perpetrators to justice. Rather than focus on the crimes being charged, white legal teams and media prefer to smear the victims' names, finding any negative light they can use to influence the view of the public and the decision of jurors.

This tragic phenomenon has major media platforms highlighting a Black murder victim's worst mistake while humanizing white terrorists and mass shooters. Black victims have had the clothes worn at the time of their murder scrutinized, school suspensions dug up, and convictions as far as 35 years before their own murder make headlines, as if to justify the crimes against them.

However, Dylann Roof, a neo-Nazi white supremacist convicted of fatally shooting nine Black churchgoers in South Carolina, was labeled a quiet loner who "drifted offtrack."

Photo by Octavio Jones / Reuters  

On October 18, jury selection began in the case against Gregory McMichael, Travis McMichael, and William "Roddie'' Bryan. These three men face nine criminal charges for the murder of Ahmaud Arbery, including felony murder and false imprisonment. Arbery was a 25-year-old Black man out on an evening jog when Gregory and his son Travis armed themselves to hunt him down while William recorded it.

In an attempt to justify their actions, the McMichaels' legal team made a motion to enter Arbery's criminal record as part of their defense. While Judge Walmsley denied their motion and emphasized that Arbery is not the one on trial, a Glynn County Courthouse error has allowed the public (including 62,000 potential jurors) access to information that has been deemed inadmissible. This includes access to all motions filed in the case.

This breach could disqualify potential jury members, resulting in a mistrial. However, they would have to admit to having accessed the information, meaning it's possible the information could still influence the verdict.

Gregory McMichael is a former police officer and retired investigator for the district attorney's office. He lost his power of arrest in 2006 after years of failing to complete basic law enforcement training, including required courses on the use of force and firearms.

Moreover, evidence is surfacing showing that the McMichaels' actions could have been premeditated. There is documentation of a Black man running through the same neighborhood on a regular basis that may have been Arbery, and there are emergency calls from neighbors reporting a Black man in the neighborhood as well as a call from Travis McMichael about a Black man "acting" like he was armed.

These three men decided that an innocent Black man in their neighborhood was a problem. They chased him down and murdered him in cold blood. The death of Ahmaud Arbery is already a tragedy, but if his murderers are able to use unrelated events from his past to escape justice, if they are allowed to defame another innocent man and convince a jury he deserved what he got, that would be a travesty.