The recently surfaced videos selectively showing Ahmaud Arbery‘s past encounters with law enforcement appear to be a collective smear job in order to help convince the court of public opinion that the 25-year-old deserved to be hunted down and killed. The release of the footage seemed to be following a familiar pattern typically seen after a white person kills an unarmed Black person.
The fix appeared to be in from the beginning after father and son Gregory and Travis McMichael painted Arbery as a burglar. That criminal narrative has recently gained steam, including on Tuesday when the latest attempt to smear Arbery’s name was the release of bodycam footage from 2017 showing his arrest for shoplifting. It was unclear who uploaded the video to Storyful’s YouTube page, but it was posted on Tuesday.
Of course, Arbery’s arrest has absolutely nothing to do with the McMichaels racially profiling him as a suspected burglar without proof. Nor does it in any way justify killing an alleged suspect under the purported pretense of trying to make a citizen’s arrest. However, the imagery of a young Black man being handcuffed and accused of stealing a TV — there was no TV in sight when he was arrested in a parking lot and he apparently was not convicted of any crime — can be damning enough to convince someone that he is guilty, depending on the viewer.
The arrest video being released followed separate police bodycam footage recorded that same year when an officer was shown trying (but failing) to Taser Arbery for an unclear suspicion. The video shows one officer approaching Arbery, who was simply shown standing by his car. That escalated to another officer trying to shoot his Taser at Arbery, only it never deployed. On the surface, the encounter appeared to be harassment.
There was also the widespread publication of surveillance footage claiming to show Arbery walking around a residential construction site at night. The headlines screamed that Arbery had previously visited the same location he was accused of stealing from on that fateful day the McMichaels took the law into their own hands and carried out what they believed was justice — killing a Black thief. Only there is no proof Arbery stole anything. In fact, he may have even been stopping for a water break during one of his miles-long jogs that he was known to take.
While the nature of Arbery’s brief stops at the property was not completely clear, what was clear was that his shooting was not merited.
Meanwhile, prior to the surveillance footage coming out, an unnamed alleged eyewitness of Arbery’s killing conveniently came forward to say he called the cops to report a man “milling about” inside an empty house right before the shooting took place. He decided to call the cops via a non-emergency phone number because the unidentified “intruder” had “no business” trespassing on the unfurnished property on Feb. 23 around 1 p.m.
The caller’s loaded language in describing Arbery spoke volumes.
“He wasn’t out for a jog, put it like that,” the caller reportedly said, criminalizing Arbery. “You don’t go jogging wearing saggy pants, saggy shorts.”
Arbery, who would have turned 26 May 8, was wearing a white T-shirt and knee-length shorts the day he was fatally shot. Again, his wardrobe doesn’t warrant killing someone. And the caller’s racist trope of “saggy pants” cannot be ignored in the overall narrative that has been established surrounding this case.
Criminalizing Black people in death is as American as apple pie. It’s a centuries-old racist tradition that has been previously used against other unarmed Black people who have been killed, including Botham Jean, Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown, to name several high-profile instances.
Considering how incestuous Georgia’s criminal justice system has already revealed itself to be in this case, what with three prosecutors having already recused themselves because of conflicts of interest, these apparent smear tactics could actually work and poison the jury pool.
But this is America.