Rolling Stone, May 7, 2020: Ahmaud Arbery Should Be Alive
Images of lynchings had previously been traditionally shared like postcards and even body parts of victims had been kept as souvenirs. I am likely not the first to observe that Till’s brutalized, unrecognizable face was an antecedent of cellphone videos that capture the killings of black people today. But even Mamie Till Mobley could not have known that generations hence, we would still need visual evidence to not only get white people to believe this kind of thing happens in America, but to even open the doors to legal consequences for white people who kill black people, whether or not racism motivated them. That is what we have come to label as “justice.”
We should reshape our thinking about that conception of “justice,” however, as we confront yet another murder of a young black person, visual evidence of that crime, and the insidious and racist justification of it.
Arbery’s death didn’t get much media attention until now, in part because it happened right as COVID-19 began scaring us into submission. But even long before the coronavirus, there has always seemed to be some reason for us to look away from black death of this kind. The era that birthed Black Lives Matter is several years past, yet we keep needing to repeat those words to a largely white America that seems exhausted by them. The shock of Arbery’s limp body slumping to the ground after very real gunshots is here to once again wake up the “woke,” I guess. Saying their names over and over again to people who don’t hear them until we eventually lose our voices has to end. We cannot afford, as citizens, to continue propagating memes and other forms of online absolution without concrete action. Until there are severe and inescapable consequences for killing black people, anyone who isn’t fully antiracist will continue to do just that.
We didn’t need a pandemic to remember how filthy America has been left by racism and the laws that uphold it. However, we cannot baptize ourselves in the blood of the slain and leave feeling clean. We can no longer accept facsimiles. We must have actual justice.