Being black in America has never been synonymous with liberation. Throughout history, black Americans have been disregarded by means of unjust imprisonment and social ostracization, which found its roots in the devastations of slavery and has persisted in modern times. In the coming years after what seemed to be emancipation from slavery, black citizens in America continuously faced challenges in their leap towards necessitated independence, which often resulted in brutal punishment by law enforcement and lynchings by white civilians who felt threatened by such an assertion. The prospect of an educated or self-sufficient black person struck fear in the white populace so intensively that Black Codes and Jim Crow laws were established to manage the movements of black citizens. Though seemingly an issue of the past, there are too many instances in modern America that allude to the chilling and inevitable truth that lies upon the foundation of this nation: here, black people will never be free.
Never have I been so stricken by this fact than during the first week of May, when the news of Ahmaud Arbery ran rampant on my Instagram and Twitter timelines. Although only seeking to take a jog on February 23rd in Brunswick, Ga., he was murdered by two white men. Early black death is not an anomaly in America. Yet, every time I hear the news that another black man (in accordance with the inherent trend) has been shut down for merely existing, the harsh reality of recurring black genocide hits me like a freight train. It’s a feeling that never settles, yet perpetually maintains itself as a normalized product of racism.
The nerve that is consistently plucked at in these events is the criminalized lens black people are seen through in their everyday endeavors. This is fundamentally a generational innuendo, which has been passed down through years of systems instilled by white people determining whether or not black people should be deemed as innocent. In consideration of the criminal justice system, black people are disproportionately apprehended by police officers, and a 2019 study shows that despite black people making up 13% of the American population, 24% of those killed by police were black people. Among these black deaths, 99% of the officers from 2013-2019 who killed someone were not charged with a crime. With these statistics in mind, the following questions are proposed: if our justice system is bound to brand black people as criminals, what do the impressionable and those influenced by this image intend to do when in contact with black people?
Perhaps this is all that was needed to solidify the actions of Gregory and Travis McMichael, the white father and son duo, who decided upon Arbery’s fate as he was jogging through a suburban neighborhood. Of course, the two are pleading self-defense because, like every other black man who meets the same ending, he looked “suspicious.” Though no evidence warrants that Arbery was the criminal, these men are making him out to be, nor does it support the unfounded justification for their actions granted by George Barnhill, the Waycross, GA. Judicial circuit district attorney who rescued himself from the case, it took two months after the murder for Gregory and Travis McMichael to be arrested and charged. It took national outrage over the traumatic and horrifying video of Arbery’s murder for anyone to take direct action. It took endless calls and campaigns. It took too much to even gain partial justice for Arbery and his family. And no, that is not enough.
The development of the case with Arbery is not far from the trend of racial incoherence in terms of justice and fate that has led to black death for years and years on end. We’ve seen the deaths of Trayvon Martin, Sandra Bland, Philando Castile, Eric Garner, and devastatingly so many more in recent years. The same week we found out about Arbery, we also discovered the deaths of Sean Reed and Breonna Taylor. Within the same month, the horrid video regarding George Floyd, a 46 year old man who died on Monday after being pressed to the ground by a white police officer in Minnesota has been released on social media. In 1955, Emmett Till was kidnapped and brutally murdered at fourteen by the husband and brother-in-law of Carolyn Bryant after allegedly whistling at her. The only difference in any of these? Time. In every occurrence, justice was either delayed or avoided for those slain. Regardless of the outrage that followed, it was always up to a white system or white people to determine whether or not a black person was guilty.
So when these deaths are referred to as lynchings, and when black people are angry and unforgiving and loud, it should be expected. Black people are tired of the cyclical nature of barbarous death, and black people are afraid. Merely being born black leads to a life of bondage, of being trapped by the ropes of injustice without ever having a say in what the fate of your life may be. Whether on a run or in their bedrooms or on a late-night walk or in a car, black people are endlessly at risk by the same society that is meant to protect them. Here, we’re left with a final question posed to the land of the free and its constituents: when and how do we become a country founded on morality and justice, and cease the cycle of oppression that has existed since the founding of this country?