For the past few days, I've been thinking about this episode of the Criminal podcast that I'd listened to a few years ago. The episode is aptly titled "Can't Rock This Boat," and if you listen to it (you should!) then you'll understand why. It's about the 1964 murder of a Black woman named Johnnie Mae Chappell, who was shot to death while walking down the side of the road. Her killer was a White man who had been riding in a car with three other White men. A so-called investigation was launched, but evidence began to disappear, protecting the killers from justice.
I've also been thinking of a 2016 PBS article I'd read (and that I've probably shared here before) that revealed an FBI warning about white supremacist groups infiltrating law enforcement:
"In the 2006 bulletin, the FBI detailed the threat of white nationalists and skinheads infiltrating police in order to disrupt investigations against fellow members and recruit other supremacists. The bulletin was released during a period of scandal for many law enforcement agencies throughout the country, including a neo-Nazi gang formed by members of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department who harassed Black and Latino communities. Similar investigations revealed officers and entire agencies with hate group ties in Illinois, Ohio, and Texas."
And I've been thinking of Ahmaud Arbery, the 25-year-old Black man who was murdered by two White men on February 23, 2020. Arbery had been on a jog when he was confronted by the two men, who pulled up in a truck carrying firearms. During a subsequent tussle, the men shot Arbery. Initially, the men weren't arrested- it was reported that they were making a "citizen's arrest" and that they had killed Arbery in self-defense as they tried to detain him. It wasn't until a video emerged and there was significant public outcry, that the two men were arrested MONTHS later in May. They've now been charged with murder and aggravated assault.
How are these things linked? The murder of Johnnie Mae Chappell and the subsequent cover-up, the infiltration of law enforcement by White Nationalist groups, and Ahmaud Arbery's murder at the hand of two White civilians. All these things are just proof that we are still, all these decades later, fighting for justice for Black people. For our lives to matter. For the guilty to receive punishments commensurate to their crimes. For our voices to be heard. I have no doubt that these two murderers would still be walking around free if the video hadn't come out and if people around the nation hadn't spoken out about it. Gregory McMichael, one of the men involved in Arbery's murder, is a retired district attorney investigator. According to Commissioner Peter Murphy, the District Attorney, George Barnhill, would not allow police to arrest Gregory McMichael or his son, Travis McMichael, citing "no grounds for arrest." To be clear, the two McMichael men pulled up on an unarmed man jogging outside, blocked his exit, brandished weapons, and eventually shot him to death. Their whole excuse was that they suspected he was a robber. So apparently, according to the two McMichael men and George Barnhill, who saw "no grounds for arrest," think it's okay for private citizens to detain other citizens whenever they feel like playing cops.
As a jogger myself, I've had a strange man pull up next to me in a car and tell me to come over to him. As I had no desire to end up as the victim of a violent crime, I ran away from him. I can only imagine how I would have felt if he had kept pursuing me, then hopped out of the car carrying a weapon and told me he was detaining me. As a rational person, I would have assumed I was being kidnapped and I would have fought for my life. Perhaps that's why Arbery fought the men who pulled up on him waving weapons. Who would allow a random person to detain them?
At this point, not only are some police officers murdering unarmed civilians, but now there are private citizens who feel emboldened to go hunting other Americans. There are significant inequalities in the way our justice system is meted out and unless we confront the systems that uphold White supremacy, we will continue to see headlines like Arbery's. We will continue to have bad actors in our criminal justice system. We will have bungled "investigations" and unsolved crimes. Today is Mother's Day and Ahmaud Arbery's mother has lost her son. We should all be tired of these stories. How many more people have to die before society changes? The Constitution promises us "liberty and justice for all." Not justice for those who look a certain way, or who have the most money, or certain connections. For all.