Growing up in a small southern town, it was impossible not to know and eventually become friends with black kids my age. When you’re in elementary and middle school, it is much harder to see things through the lens of race. They are your friends. You go to class with them. You have lunch with them. You play at recess with them.
As you get into high school, your attitudes start to change. Influences at home play a part, as well as the peer pressure of it all. You test the boundaries of acceptable society by making jokes that seem harmless, poking fun at the differences between you. Some kids join in and you have black jokes and white jokes going back and forth. At home, your parents may have less than positive thoughts on you hanging out with or even dating someone of another race.
All of it plays a part in how you develop. Society itself makes demands of your social life. In college, there are fraternities with just white students and fraternities with just black students. There are events that cater, either openly or secretly, just to members of a certain ethnic group. Your experiences in those social circles continue to shape you.
And then, as a working adult, you interact on a professional level with people of different races. The games you played, the jokes you told, those are all out the window. They are the difference between having a promising career and having your first (and last at that company) visit with human resources. Likewise, out in the community, your experiences with them changes. You see things differently. You experience things differently. You are treated differently.
No one is born a racist, but everyone on some level is taught it. Whether you’re taught to identify and avoid it or taught or shown to use it, everyone at some point has experienced in the real world racism. It isn’t always openly hostile, nor is it always innocent. There are varying degrees, and they all go back to a person’s environment. Multiple people within an environment create a culture that is toxic and racist.
Maybe it is on purpose. Maybe it is on accident. But it is still there, ever festering until the system within that culture begins to ignore and even actively oppose people of another race simply because it is inconvenient to address them.
Ahmaud Arbery experienced first hand the racism inherent in southern white culture. In an area where there is an alleged string of burglaries, a black man in a largely white neighborhood is considered a suspect no matter if they know him or not. Two men, in particular, one with ties to law enforcement and the other his son, went beyond that, however, and tried to confront him. A struggle ensued, and Arbery ended up dead.
The local district attorney swept it under the rug. It was a “citizen’s arrest,” the office claimed. Nevermind that a citizen’s arrest is not supposed to result in someone’s death. But, local law enforcement never followed up. A dead black man in a white neighborhood that was plagued by burglaries. Local justice seemed to have prevailed. Case closed.
Then, the video leaked. The video shows Arbery’s jogging route being cut off by the men. He tries to go around them, they stop him. He reaches for the gun, which is currently threatening him. It goes off once. More struggle. Arbery is fighting for his life. A second shot, and the man stumbles off the road to die.
He was not caught in the act of robbing someone. It was broad daylight. He was jogging. The two white men had no evidence that Arbery had robbed anyone in the neighborhood. There is no evidence he had done anything wrong at all. And, yet, there are people who would defend the two men and treat the dead black man as though he deserved his fate. Video surfaced of Arbery walking into a partially constructed home, looking at it. He didn’t touch anything, and he didn’t take anything. He looked, and then left.
Who among us, as a kid or an adult, hasn’t? Yet, people out there treat it as evidence that Arbery was a nefarious presence in that neighborhood. They won’t openly say he deserved it, but they sure act like he had it coming.
The same people who will attack those demanding justice for Arbery do not realize that the young man was deprived of any sort of justice. He was suspected of committing a crime by local citizens, not law enforcement. He was cut off on an apparent jog. He tried to defend himself, and he was shot and killed.
The same people defending his killers were also just a week ago praising the fact that General Michael Flynn received justice after a malicious FBI violated his right and pinned on him a crime he didn’t commit. Arbery was never even investigated. He wasn’t even a suspect to law enforcement, and yet it is fine for him to be dead while Flynn goes free.
For some of you, your immediate response is to say that the two situations are not identical, but that is the point. The justice system was corrupted to take Flynn down, but there was a chance for him to go free. The justice system not only did not get a chance to investigate Arbery, but it would also then sweep his death under the rug to prevent an inconvenient investigation into a white man who was a part of that justice system.
Put another way, many demanded Brett Kavanaugh receive due process and be given a chance to present his evidence, and even pointed out that there was no corroborating evidence to prove the existence of a crime. A not insignificant number of people then turned around ignored it when Arbery was not given a chance to present his evidence and prove his innocence. He was murdered.
Flynn and Kavanaugh had an advantage. They are educated, white men. They, like so many white men in America, are able to start life already on second base while black men like Arbery aren’t even on off the bench yet, and when they finally get to the plate, the pitcher is as likely to try to hit them as they are to try to strike them out.
Injustice is still rampant in our society. The system was made available to Flynn and Kavanaugh, and despite some hiccups along the way, they were given the benefit of the doubt by many people who will not afford it to Arbery.