On February 23, 2020, Ahmaud Arbery was jogging when he was shot and killed in broad daylight. The men allegedly responsible for Arbery’s death remained on the scene until police arrived. According to police reports, those men claimed they were making a citizen’s arrest on Arbery. In turn, Arbery, who was unarmed, attacked them making the killing a justified act of self-defense, they said.
With warm blood on the ground, no arrests were made that day. As Arbery’s family mourned and demanded answers, no arrests were made the next day, the next week, the next month or the month after that. In essence, the inaction of the Glynn County Police Department answered Arbery’s parents, in question form – why should the men responsible for your son’s death be arrested?
If you can’t disprove the word of a white person, that’s it, go home, we’re sorry for your loss. Those men had apparently gotten away with murder.
Oh wait, there was a video of the incident and it wasn’t recorded by an innocent bystander but by one of the men allegedly involved. Really? The tape was leaked to the public on May 5th and arrests were made two days later.
Fast forward to the present day and the court drama is getting ready for broadcast. We’ve seen this show before and this week’s episode is jury selection. When police are the triggermen, the story usually doesn’t even get this far. But since the three men on trial are civilians, the performances tend to go longer.
The casting of 12 jurors will most likely take a few weeks since the small Georgia county is made up of less than a hundred thousand residents. Out of the first eight potential jurors selected, two have qualified to advance despite having admitted to knowing the defendants. Unlike a theatrical production, we do not see the faces of these supporting actors despite their crucial role in determining the story’s outcome.
What used to make America great for white people (especially those in the South) was the rigged fulfillment of an all-white jury. A trial was just a formality to uphold the appearance of law. I can only imagine the countless winks given between white jurors and white defendants. Some may have even admired the defendant as a heroic exterminator in a shared belief of the country being a better place with one less n-gger.
Black people have seen more than our fair share of white celebration as the system works in favor of acquittals. Images of back-patting, handshakes and handing out cigars are vivid in the evolution of black & white to living color. While we’ve all been voyeurs to Lady Justice’s corrupt ways of prostitution and miscarriage consequence, it’s only Black people who have had to endure the vulgar insult of “this has nothing to do with race.”
If America is not a racist country, why is the jury selection such a fickle negotiation of all things race-related? If the Confederate flag is a symbol of heritage not hate, why should it matter if it’s displayed on the defendant’s truck? Why have I never seen a vehicle with both a Confederate flag and a Black Lives Matter sticker? Please show me that F150.
Still, we’re forced to sit through scenes of racial semantics where clear hate sentiments get masqueraded as Dukes of Hazzard fandom. This sets the stage for spin, manipulation and persuasion. Lawyers throw laterals to the jury to make it appear the term “rubber lips” is a colloquial expression for a liar so that when people like Jon Gruden write an email about a Black man having lips the size of Michelin tires, the reference can be interpreted as non-racial.
This heritage is largely defined by the unwritten right to harass, terrorize and kill Black people without hard consequences. However, the omnipresence of cell phones is a monkey wrench in cover-up mechanics. A small matter of record is all that’s needed for whiteness to work wonders. Still, when the existential threat of emerging video contradicts the white lie, it usually doesn’t succumb to guilt, it resorts to other tactics of manipulation.
This brings us right back to the jury and the construct of law –based on primal fear. The playbook for low-tech lynching is always the same: When you can’t prove white innocence, prove white victimization. There will always be an implied notion that any unarmed, outnumbered Black man has the advantage of a wild animal.
I often wonder if the verdict in the George Zimmerman trial would have been the same if there was video. I think about the one non-white juror and whether she identified with Zimmerman’s racial assimilation. I think about when Rachel Jeantel (Trayvon Martin’s friend) took the stand. I think about her appearance and vernacular and if anyone on that jury related to her. I think about her testimonial of being on the phone with Trayvon as he was being hunted and how his accurate description of the hunter resonated with universal understanding among Black folk. To us, any white man obsessed with following us while we’re minding our own business is a “Creepy-Ass Cracker.” And just like that, Trayvon and the weight of American history was on trial because the jury might’ve subconsciously felt attacked, now perceiving him as the threat.
These reboots are draining to watch. The storyline is the same and so are the methods; gerrymandered legislation that allows a loophole for white exemption. While I’m somewhat comforted by the fact the men involved in the killing of Ahmaud Arbery also face federal charges, the tactic of white supremacy has rarely been to prove their innocence – it’s to prove that we’re guilty – of breathing in America.
Trevor is a creative mercenary and ethical lobbyist born and raised on Beale Street. Follow him on Twitter @trevbetter.