An unarmed person of color is killed by police or by self-appointed vigilantes. Authorities accept, without question, an explanation of self-defense. It is only after the disinfecting sunlight of public attention arouses outrage that the wheels of justice begin to turn.
And so, it has been for Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year-old Georgia man shot to death while jogging in February.
The 64-year-old former police investigator and his 34-year-old son who are charged in his death told police he thought Mr. Arbery looked like a man suspected in several break-ins in the area.
No break-ins had been reported in the area for seven weeks before the shooting.
Recusals by prosecutors
The father and son, Gregory and Travis McMichael, armed themselves and chased Ahmaud in a pickup truck before the younger man fired the fatal shots from his shotgun.
No one was arrested. Shortly afterward, the prosecutor with jurisdiction over the case recused herself because the elder McMichael had worked in her office.
The second prosecutor, whose son worked in the same office also recused himself. But before he did, he made it clear to the police that he accepted the McMichael’s claim of self defense.
Two months later
By the time the New York Times published its first account of the killing, two months had passed with no arrests. It was only two weeks later, after a video of the armed chase emerged that the third prosecutor assigned to the case said he would present it to a grand jury.
That same day, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation took over the case from local police. Two days later, Ahmaud’s attackers were arrested. Appallingly, the defense attorney who leaked the video said he thought it would exonerate the attackers because Ahmaud didn’t freeze when the attackers told him to stop.
It boggles the mind that in the year 2020 there are still people in positions of authority who accept, unquestioningly, the notion that a Black man who fails to heed the orders of a White man on the street deserves instant death.
Meanwhile, another tragic killing, the death of 26-year-old Breonna Taylor, has risen to national attention. The EMT shot to death by Louisville police executing a no-knock search warrant. The police were not wearing body cameras. Her family have sued the police and the case is under review.
The National Urban League stands in solidarity with the other civil rights and social justice advocates and activists who have called on U.S. Attorney William Barr to investigate these killings and the work of the police and prosecutors involved.
An unsigned note left at the spot where Ahmaud was killed reads: “Ahmaud – I am so sorry. I should have stopped them. I am so sorry.”
We, as a nation, should have stopped them, and must stop it from happening again.
Marc Morial is president and CEO of the National Urban League.