Opinion: There is no conceivable justification for defense’s treatment of Ahmaud Arbery

The details of the case itself are amazing. According to his family, Arbery – a runner – was out for a jog. Two white men, concerned about local burglaries, grabbed their guns, jumped into a truck, chased Arbery, and was later joined by a third white man. One of those men shot and killed Arbery with a rifle. The McMichael family say they were defending themselves while trying to make a “citizen arrest” – except that Travis McMichael testified during the trial that Arbery never threatened any of the men now on trial to kill him.
that a group of white men felt justified in stalking a black man in their neighborhood – even a man they believed had committed a burglary (not a major crime) – and then felt they deserved to get rid of the Scots after one of them was shot dead egregiously enough. Compounding this atrocity, however, was the racist attack on the victim by a member of the defense team. On Monday, defense attorney Laura Hogg went as far as saying during her closing arguments in the case, “The conversion of Ahmed Arbery into a victim after the choices he made does not reflect the reality of what drove Ahmed Arbery to Satila Shores in his khaki pants. Without stockings to cover his dirty long nails.”

What does the Arbery case have to do with whether the man who shot him was guilty of murder? no thing. There is no conceivable justification for Hogue, in her role as her client’s advocate, to cite such details, other than a blatant attempt to paint a racially coded picture in jurors’ minds of Arbery as less than human, as a filthy beast who made a legitimate threat. No one on the jury—almost all of whom are white—may want their neighborhoods, either. It was, it seems, a naked ploy to weaponize white fear in order to secure her client’s acquittal.

Arbery’s mother left the courtroom in shock and disgust. Anderson Cooper told CNN that she was appalled by the defense’s attempt to “dehumanize her son.”
It was a shameful show, and it was a kind of character assassination tactic for someone who didn’t think he could win with merit. “After these men in the courtroom assassinated their child, they are now sitting here assassinating his character,” said family attorney Benjamin Crump.
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It was also a familiar ploy in the long, sad history of racial violence in the United States. Time and time again, black victims are dumped and their names mutilated posthumously in an attempt to justify the violence against them. These images go back to the days of slavery, especially the Reconstruction era, when many whites felt threatened by the new freedom of blacks. The murders and executions, including that of the child Emmett Till, were justified by the claim that black men and boys raped or assaulted white women. Black men are portrayed as savages and savages in the pro-Ku-Klux-Klan film The Birth of a Nation.
Decades and more than a century later, in some cases, these images have changed, but they have not gone away. When whites perpetrate violence against blacks, and black men, women, and even children are routinely slandered as intimidating, threatening, and animalistic, the message is that the white attacker or murderer was acting in self-defense — and the black victim might see it.
This same metaphor is still in use so often that “it wasn’t an angel” – the drawn line, often by conservatives and even some mainstream news outlets, after killing black men and boys – is widely understood as a vulgar metaphor. Even 12-year-old Tamir Rais, who was shot by a policeman when he was in the stadium, the head of the police union called him a “thug” and blamed him for his death.

And now here’s Arbery, with the condition of his toenails that were used to try to justify his murder.

The question now is whether or not the jury will hold it — or whether so much has changed and so much remains the same, they will see these disgusting tactics for what they are. I hope that in their deliberations they will refuse, whatever outcome they reach, to attempt to blame the victim, and to seek justice for Ahmaud Arbery. But the long history that paved the way for Arbery’s murder, which plays a role in the defense strategy of the men who chased him and the person who pulled the trigger, won’t go away when the jury makes its verdict. It is up to all of us: to name these racial metaphors, to understand their cunning, to reject them.


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