Black men and women are murdered by cops and white thugs, and nothing happens. The criminal “justice” system legally backs the crimes of cops and racists as “justifiable”. It happens so often that African Americans initially just shrug and hold back outrage. Then anger explodes when the truth is revealed.
A Black man jogging in Georgia was killed in February and a Black woman in Kentucky was gunned down while sleeping in her own bed a few weeks later. Their crime? The dark colour of their skin.
Ahmaud Arbery: “Jogging while Black”
Twenty-five year old Ahmaud Arbery was jogging ‒ as he regularly did ‒ in a small town in south Georgia on February 23. He stopped at a house under construction (as do many white people) to check it out. According to the owner, who has a camera set up at the property, it was likely to get a drink of water. Nothing was stolen.
Afterwards, he continued his jog. Then two white men (a father, Gregory McMichael ‒ a former cop, and Travis, his son) armed themselves and chased him down in a pickup truck. A third white man videoed the “chase” and subsequent murder on his phone.
Arbery was cut off by the truck and was confronted by the armed men. They shot Arbery several times, as he tried to fight off the son (who was armed with a shotgun) and flee. The killers’ claimed the right of “citizen’s arrest” and “self-defense”. It was a modern-day lynching.
The video of the murder was given to the cops and the District Attorney. The first DA recused herself from the case because of her connection to the killers. The second DA eventually did the same, under pressure. They accepted the murderers’ story about Arbery before stepping aside. They had seen the video and kept it hidden. Both father and son were set free to go home and sleep in their own beds.
About 74 days later, as the Arbery family sought justice, Gregory McMichael asked his attorney to release the video to a local news station, in the belief it would clear his and his son’s names. In their minds, as whites in Georgia, they knew that Arbery was a Black man and a “criminal”, deserving a citizen’s arrest and death. They assumed the video would prove it.
However, the opposite happened. The Black community and the family demanded justice. Back Lives Matter rose again. The national media finally took notice.
The Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) took over the case and charged the McMichaels with murder. William Bryan Jr, who shot the video, was also charged with felony murder. The GBI’s arrests came as a surprise, since it has a long racist history. A third DA from Cobb County ‒ its first Black female prosecutor ‒ was then appointed head prosecutor.
How is it that a Black man was shot dead in broad daylight and nothing happened?
The antebellum [pre-civil war] Old South, the Confederacy, got away with this so regularly, that it was impossible to win justice. Once upon a time, killing Blacks was a social activity for southern whites. To this day, many whites see African Americans as inferior.
White terrorism is not a surprise; justice requires a mass struggle to defeat the supremacists. It cannot be won by any other means.
About eight years ago in nearby Florida, Treyvon Martin was murdered in a gated community ‒ while visiting his father’s fiancée ‒ by armed, white “community vigilante”, George Zimmerman. He stalked Martin and killed him, claiming self-defense.
Zimmerman was not arrested and was allowed to go home. The police accepted his story of the confrontation. However, public and community outrage led to Zimmerman’s arrest. The ensuing smear campaign directed at the dead teenager, and a weak prosecution, led to Zimmerman’s acquittal.
A positive result was the formation of the Black Lives Matter movement, which remains a voice of justice and solidarity against racist cops and white supremacists.
Breonna Taylor: an EMT hero
The police killing of a young female Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) in Louisville, Kentucky, shows that all it takes to be murdered by cops in the US is to have a natural Black skin.
Breonna Taylor, 26, was shot dead in her own apartment at one o’clock in the morning. The plain-clothed cops broke down her door and fired 20 shots, eight hit Taylor.
The cops executed a “no knock” warrant, claiming the home was a drug traffickers’ “haven”. Taylor’s boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, was arrested and charged with attempted murder, because he shot at the cops as intruders. They never identified themselves.
“Across the country,” reported The Guardian’s US edition, “many people were starting to work from home as the grip of coronavirus quickly spread. But Taylor, a 26-year-old certified EMT, was an essential worker, still going to help at two Louisville hospitals, as the city braced for the worst.
“’She had no regard for her health when it came to helping others,’ said lawyer Ben Crump.
“’And the tragedy is it wasn’t coronavirus that killed Breonna Taylor. It was police officers that were being reckless and irresponsible and shooting from outside the house, shooting through windows.
“They don’t do this in other neighbourhoods.’”
According to The Guardian, Lawyers for Taylor’s family are accusing the police of “negligence, excessive force and wrongful death”.
The police had been searching “for a suspect who had already been apprehended and lacked probable cause”.
Police fired their weapons “blindly”, according to the lawyers, showing “a total disregard for the value of human life”.
“Breonna had posed no threat to the officers and did nothing to deserve to die at their hands.”
History of Black deaths
Africans were brought to the colonies in 1619 as slaves. They were not considered human beings but chattel. Blacks only became citizens after the Second American Revolution, the Civil War (1861–65). But the old slave-owning South, the Confederacy, never fully accepted the change to the Constitution that followed. The counter-revolution after 1877 denied a vast majority of African Americans basic citizenship rights until the late 1960s.
To this day, the Confederate flag flies in the Old South, including the states of Georgia and Kentucky.
Black lives never mattered to supporters of slavery and legal segregation. It was not limited to the South, but across the country. Major urban centers like Chicago and Detroit ghettoised Black populations. Blacks were never considered equal citizens.
Arbery jogged in the predominantly white area of town, but lived in a mostly Black community across the freeway (recognised as a racial barrier). Times have changed. Arbery was not an unknown outsider. Yet, he became a victim of a modern-day lynching.
Taylor’s murder can only be understood as cops seeing Blacks (men and women) as likely criminals, because of their skin colour. She was an essential worker, who had been hailed for her efforts in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. To the cops, she was a drug trafficker.
Georgia is one of four states (three in the South) without a “hate crime” law. It is a leading state in suppressing the right to vote for African Americans. President Donald Trump defends white supremacists and armed white men in provocateur actions. He attacks the use of postal ballots as fraud, because of higher voter turnout.
Kentucky has also been a bastion of institutional racism. It was a slave state, where lynchings occurred after the end of the Civil War and the end of Reconstruction in 1877.
What happens today is in line with that historical record, even as African Americans have made progress since the victory of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s.
The Taylor and Arbery cases show that mass public pressure is still required to expose the injustices of the legal system. They also show why the killings of Americans with Black skin are equal to modern day lynchings in states with a long history of doing so.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported a fact about “terror lynchings” that is a reminder of why racism and skin-colour deaths must be acknowledged, to open the door to truth, reconciliation, and reparations: “New research has found that 800 more people were lynched in the South from 1877 to 1950 than was previously believed.
"The Equal Justice Initiative said its findings bring the total of “terror lynchings” — murders in which no one was charged and that were intended to terrorise black Southerners — to 4084, during the period from the Civil War to just after World War 2.”
[Malik Miah is a long-time Black rights and revolutionary socialist activist, a contributing editor with Against the Current, a US socialist magazine and on the editorial advisory board of Links ‒ International Journal of Socialist Renewal.]