We’ve Been Hunting the Wrong Monster.
The Devil went down to Georgia.
On February 23, 2020, 25-year-old, Ahmaud Arbery, was hunted down in broad daylight and shot like an animal by, at least, two men—Gregory McMichael (64), and his son, Travis McMichael (34).
Trailing close behind Ahmaud, a neighbor of the gun-wielding father and son, a Mr. William Bryan, filmed the encounter with a cell phone from the safety of his car, including the moment when Ahmaud stumbled and eventually fell face down, dead, in the middle of a residential, American street, on a sunny, Sunday afternoon.
It happened along a shady residential street in Brunswick, Georgia, along the Atlantic coast, roughly 40 miles from the Florida State line.
It was this video that would eventually lead to the arrest of the vigilantes, though Ahmaud would be buried and gone a curiously long time before those arrests were made.
The full video—released to the public on Tuesday, May 5, by local criminal defense attorney, Alan David Tucker, plainly shows Ahmaud Arbery jogging up from behind a white pickup truck, parked in the road with the driver's door hanging open. The driver, Travis McMichael, was standing in the road, holding his shotgun as Ahmaud began to jog around the passenger side of the truck, presumably to avoid an unpleasant confrontation with Travis and his gun.
A moment later, Travis and Mr. Arbery can be seen grappling with one another — a violent struggle with a locked and loaded shotgun at its center. Desperate to escape but clearly unable and at a complete disadvantage, Ahmaud fought valiantly against his attacker, punching at him and trying with all his courage and strength to wrest the shotgun away. The whole time, he must have been keenly aware that his struggle was being lorded over by the old man in the bed of the truck, standing tall behind the cab with his own shotgun, as if on Safari, never-mind the car that was still rolling up, slowly, videoing from behind.
What must have seemed like an eternity, lasted roughly twelve seconds from the moment the first shot rang out. Eight seconds after that first shot, Ahmaud Arbery was shot at point blank range in his abdomen, then staggered forward, and collapsed, face-first onto the street in front of the truck.
We really need a better word for this.
An early report (which has since been removed) claimed that Gregory McMichael "doesn’t have a racist bone in his body." I can only assume that attribution was eventually removed because it couldn't be corroborated, but I think we can agree, it's an all-too-common dodge that tends to follow stories like these, especially from the people who defend the accused.
Far too often, people try and hide their particular breed of hatred inside a garbled mess of semantics, as if the crime were made lesser somehow by removing the possibility of a dark motive. Let's be clear, racist or not, Ahmaud Arbery is dead because Gregory and Travis McMichael pursued and threatened him under the guise of making a citizen's arrest for a crime they did not witness and could not prove.
Were they being racist?
Quite frankly, I think it's the wrong question.
It's wrong because, if you can somehow wiggle your way around it and convincingly paint them to be fine, upstanding men who have nothing but love for their non-white sisters and brothers, you will still have a dead, Ahmaud Arbery to deal with. Squabbling over whether or not the killers liked black people will never change the fact that they just killed a black man.
From where I stand, because of the events that follow, "racism" isn't even close to a big enough word to carry the full weight of this.
That's because it cannot contain the full spectrum of what would be needed to kill Ahmaud Arbery and to then go on living life with impunity, as if what had happened was totally acceptable, not only to themselves and their families, but to law enforcement, who only bothered to arrest the pair after the leaked video, filmed by their neighbor, went viral, nearly three months later.
While Ahmaud had twelve seconds to grapple with what was happening, these men were granted an incredible 74 days of freedom despite having been the ones who did the killing.
The McMichael men went on living their lives after ending Ahmaud's. No arrests were made. No charges were filed. Nothing. And it wasn't because they made an err in judgement and were unwillingly thrust into a situation where they felt the need to protect themselves, as I'm sure they will argue. At least one of the men—Gregory McMichael, Travis' father— knew full-well the weight of what they were doing. Roughly one year prior, he retired from a career as an investigator with the Glynn County District Attorney's office. To suggest that he may have felt insulated from any unfavorable interpretations of their actions is a near certainty, supported anecdotally by the fact that they suffered literally zero legal consequences. That is, until the video was leaked and the light of day came searing into their dark world.
Now I'm sorry, but racism alone likely could not accomplish what it must have taken to seal this from view for so long. It would require something far more depraved, something big enough to have given birth to racism itself.
In my view, that certain something is supremacy.
Supremacy is the cancer of the soul.
In the Declaration of Independence, American citizens are promised life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, each a direct affront to the idea that anyone is better than another. Ahmaud was fully American that day, until these men decided that he wasn't. His life, his liberty, and his pursuit of happiness—all embodied in the simple act of jogging—were stripped away by these people who arbitrarily decided it could no longer be that way. Not for Ahmaud.
Racist or not, these men were suckling supremacy.
Supremacy is the wellspring—the ultimate source—that racism flows from, but that’s not all that bubbles out of it.
It's much bigger than that.
Bigotry, sexism, classism, prejudice of all kinds, violence, abuse, and other toxic manifestations of human depravity all source from the same putrid well head of supremacy. You can harm another person and say it had nothing to do with their gender, their age, skin color, or class, but you cannot choose to go out of your way to harm someone and expect anyone to believe that you see them as an equal.
If these men had seen Ahmaud Arbery as an equal, it never would have occurred to them that they should chase him, much less corner him, much less kill him. Not in a million years. That’s because, when they looked at Ahmaud, they would have seen themselves, their own sons and daughters, or perhaps even their God. With humility, they would have known that this is no way to deal with someone. Anyone. Ever. No matter what.
A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.
Shakespeare knew that it didn't matter what you called something, it's the experience of that thing which gives it practical meaning. Call it a bucket or a bovine, the smell and beauty of a rose is what makes it desirable, not the name. Equally, those things which we abhor can be shuffled around in a carnivalesque shell game of semantic diversion and distraction, offering ample wiggle room for the carnie to execute his grand deception, and that's why lesser words are dangerous; they are just too easy to manipulate.
I realize that some people might get angry with me for parsing words and saying that it's supremacy, not racism, that we should be targeting right now, but here’s why I think it matters: even if you can be found “not guilty” of racism among your peers or loved ones or the public at large, you can never escape the fact that your own sense of supremacy is the only thing required in order to take, or cast aside in utter disregard, the life of another human being.
In other words, even if you are not a racist and can prove that beyond a shadow of any doubt, you are not free and clear from the entanglements of supremacy.
That's because supremacy manifests in whichever way is most comfortable or useful to the supremacist. Even the term "racist" is sometimes used by supremacists of a different ilk to create the power they seek, by dividing people who might otherwise... wait for it... agree with one another. For some, like self-proclaimed, white supremacists, they make no qualms about the fact that they see themselves as superior to those who are non-white, purely on the grounds of race, but using them as a measure of what a supremacist is, eases lots of otherwise guilty worms right off the hook.
But no one is off the hook.
Certainly not me and certainly not you.
If life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness is something we all aspire to, then we must all scan our entire heart for the festering mold of supremacy that likes to grow on personal freedom.
There has never been a better time to test yourself.
Right now, how many of us are discarding the elderly and compromised members of our communities because we refuse to see them as equal?
How many didn’t get sickened seeing kids in cages because the children’s parents, unfortunately, broke the law?
How many of us think of some members of our own ethnic group as “poor trash” or view drug addicts and prostitutes with disdain, then curse them in our hearts for the burden that they are?
That, too, is supremacy.
You don't have to be a racist to be a supremacist. You can be a preacher, a politician, a victim, a champion, even a hero, perhaps the most qualified member of your own neighborhood watch.
Just about everyone I'm running into right now is demanding that Ahmaud Arbery's family gets the justice he deserves, but arriving at that conclusion and then leaving it at that is dangerously close to an act of supremacy unto itself.
That's because that isn't all there is to be done with this moment. Now I'm not saying that you have to march in a protest or ramble like a lunatic on a podcast but if you hope to deserve and preserve your own freedom, then you had damn well better be ready protect and preserve the freedom of others in the place where it matters first and where it matters most... deep within the recesses of your own heart.
Don’t be caught off guard one day by being called some nasty thing that you know you aren’t. You may not be a racist, but if any part of what happened to Ahmaud Arbery makes sense to you—even the tiniest little bit—and you find yourself making an argument in favor of the people who shot him dead like a dog in the street, you may very well have the poison of supremacy already coursing through your veins.
It’s your responsibility to deal with that, right now.
And yes, I am dealing with mine.
Perhaps there is still hope.
On May 7, 2020, approximately 74 days after Ahmaud Arbery was gunned down in broad daylight, the father and son who took his life were finally arrested. They weren't captured in some other state, running from justice, like fugitives from the law. They were home, enjoying their own life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness.
The arrests were made, not while Ahmaud's body was still warm, but nearly three months later and only after tremendous public outcry, not 48 hours after the release of William Bryan's cell phone video.
If supremacy can exist in the purest of hearts, then who's to say it isn't written into our laws? Laws written by people of valor and good intentions? It's the very logic behind the argument of systemic racism, because it doesn't take a racist to be a supremacist.
How do two men with shotguns publicly kill one man with nothing and go on living their lives without so much as a hiccup? Supremacy, that's how. Systemic, deeply-rooted supremacy, likely masquerading as legal interpretations, character references, busy schedules, priorities, merit, and God knows what else.
When this finally makes it to court, it seems likely that the attorney's for Gregory and Travis McMichael will claim that they shot Ahmaud in self-defense, citing the State of Georgia's so-called "stand your ground law" .
According to O.C.G.A. 16-3-21, subsection (a):
(a) A person is justified in threatening or using force against another when and to the extent that he or she reasonably believes that such threat or force is necessary to defend himself or herself or a third person against such other's imminent use of unlawful force; however, except as provided in Code Section 16-3-23, a person is justified in using force which is intended or likely to cause death or great bodily harm only if he or she reasonably believes that such force is necessary to prevent death or great bodily injury to himself or herself or a third person or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony.
There's just one problem. In the clause that follows, subsection (b), it clearly states:
(b) A person is not justified in using force under the circumstances specified in subsection (a) of this Code section if he: (1) Initially provokes the use of force against himself with the intent to use such force as an excuse to inflict bodily harm upon the assailant;
By pursuing Ahmaud Arbery with loaded shotguns and by blocking his escape, they left him little choice but to defend himself with force. In so doing, Ahmaud Arbery saw no other option than to fight, just as I would have done, in an attempt to remove the weapon from the hands of his unanticipated attacker. It would seem that Travis and Gregory McMichael, perhaps with the cooperation of their neighbor, William Bryan, provoked Ahmaud's use of force against them, thereby destroying their chance of a successful "stand your ground" defense.
That is, of course, if supremacy has not already decided this case in a county and state that left these killers to do as they pleased for 74 days, until everyone was caught, when the story hit the news.
Ask yourself, what else are we missing? What cherished, toxic ideas am I protecting inside of myself or allowing to persist inside of my community, unchallenged and unfettered? And why, in the name of everything that I treasure am I so willing, perhaps even determined, to leave this work for someone else?
Supremacy can kill the world by simply doing nothing at all.
Only supremacy looks upon the suffering of others and says, "I see nothing of consequence here." Only supremacy can kill by simply doing nothing at all.