I can think of several times in my life when I peeked into a new building being constructed in my neighborhood. I always knew my curiosity might get me yelled at. I never imagined it might get me killed.
Back in February, a young man out for a jog apparently got curious about a new house being built near his home. A surveillance camera caught him looking up at the beams. He then continued his run and soon found himself being followed by two men in a pickup truck. When the men jumped out of the truck, armed with rifles, the young man – unarmed – tried to defend himself from this surprise assault. He was hit with three blasts from the attackers’ shotguns.
Why did this young man, Ahmaud Arbery, get killed while, as a result of my forays to inspect the beams, I never even got a scolding? The answer seems obvious; I’m white, he was black.
Arbery lived in a small town in Georgia, a region still struggling to escape the 400-year history of slavery, racism and oppression. His attackers were two white men who took it upon themselves to go hunting for anyone who looked suspicious. And, in the eyes of these two self-appointed law enforcers – as is still the case with too many white people – a young black man running down a street automatically looks suspicious.
Now, it is easy to condemn the lethal arrogance of two stereotypical Southern vigilantes, but let’s not pretend they are extreme outliers in an otherwise just society where most of our racial issues were resolved in the 1960s. Arbery is just the latest in a disturbingly long list of black men and women in cities and towns throughout the country who have ended up dead because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong skin color.
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