One response that’s become familiar following the shooting of unarmed Black people has been decidedly absent in the conversation about the shooting death of Ahmaud Arbery. While victims’ family members have many times readily forgiven their relatives’ killers, this time around there is no mention of any kind of forgiveness from Abery’s family, let alone a nation of outraged Black folks who continue to see people who look like them be slaughtered with impunity by police and civilians alike.
In fact, it’s quite the opposite from Arbery’s mother, who has openly called for the death penalty for Gregory and Travis McMichael, the father and son who profiled the 25-year-old jogger, armed themselves and hunted him down wth the sole objective of killing him.
“Coming from my point of view, my son died, so they should die as well,” Wanda Cooper-Jones told TMZ on Tuesday.
That sentiment seemed to be echoed across social media and in sharply worded opinion pieces that followed.
To be sure, it seems like we haven’t seen this much anger following the shooting of an unarmed Black man since former Dallas Police Officer Amber Guyger broke into the home of Botham Jean and killed the 26-year-old as he sat on his sofa eating ice cream in 2018.
That isn’t to say that unarmed Black men were not being killed by white people in between then and now. On the contrary, the trend has shown no signs of slowing. But the police in Brunswick, Georgia, and local prosecutors appearing to sweep the shooting under the rug along with the graphic video footage of the shooting seems to set this case apart from others. The only apparent reason an official law enforcement investigation has begun is because somebody leaked the video on social media more than two months after the McMichaels shot Arbery in February. That finally resulted in the delayed arrest and murder charges for the McMichaels, who up until last week were shielded by a Georgia law about making a citizen’s arrest, a claim that was even more far-fetched after viewing the video.
The response from Arbery’s mother stood in stark contrast to the one from the family of Jean, whose senseless shooting death led to a murder trial for Guyger. After the jury returned a guilty verdict, Jean’s brother asked while testifying during the sentencing phase if he could hug the fired cop. Later, after the sentence was read, Judge Tammy Kemp, who was widely praised for her handling of the murder trial, also embraced the convicted murderer in court. There was as a bailiff, a Black woman, who was caught on camera stroking Guyger’s hair in court shortly after Kemp read the verdict.
Also notably, family and friends of victims in the Charleston church massacre instantly forgave Dylann Roof, the avowed white supremacist who said he wanted to start a race war by executing nine parishioners in a historic African American house of worship in South Carolina.
Those high-profile instances of Black forgiveness do not include those that have nothing to do with death, like the Virginia blackface scandal that’s seen Gov. Ralph Northam emerge as a hero for Black people more than a year after he admitted to wearing blackface in college. Black folks instantly rallied around him and showered him with forgiveness.
Of course, there is no rule when it comes to grieving. However, the aforementioned instances of apparent selflessness made one thing became glaringly more obvious: Black forgiveness, for better or for worse, is a fragile and complex topic. The logic behind it is both inexplicable and easy to understand, making the topic all the more intriguing whenever it does and also does not happen.