Bars, Stars and Prejudice in the Killing of Ahmaud Arbery
Georgia is one of four states that does not have a hate crime law, but citizens can have a gun and arrest a "suspect."
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On May 8, Ahmaud Arbery, a native of Brunswick, Georgia, should have turned 26. But what would have been his birthday party was instead a national protest and a tribute to the young African-American who was shot by two men on February 23 while jogging through a mostly white and wealthy neighborhood.
His crime: looking suspicious. A serial thief. So said his killers, Gregory McMichael, a 64-year-old former police officer with a depressive history who had his gun license revoked, and his son Travis, 34.
The events leading up to the murder are hazy. The reality of what happened is not. However, several months passed before the McMichaels ended up in prison. The reason? A video recorded by an "alleged" witness surfaced that showed Arbery defending himself from the pair as they rode up to him in their truck wielding guns, not hesitating to fire. During a scuffle for one of the weapons, Arbery was shot multiple times and killed.
Last week's commemorations in Brunswick brought together both runners displaying the boy's face and members of the Black Panthers to mourn his death. They are the furious outrage of a vast majority of people of color who refuse to remain the sparring partners of a system where prejudice is the law.
In Georgia, as in other states, such as South Carolina and Arkansas, the law protects those who carry guns, but there is no express legislation on hate crimes.
The legal void and the fact that the case was passed around because of the McMichaels' ties to the local prosecutor's office were among the problems that caused the delay in their arrest. But they have raised important issues.
Above all, the necessary push in Georgia for a hate crime law, the last attempt of which was blocked in a state senate committee last March because of the coronavirus.
At a press conference Tuesday at Arbery's grave, Georgia Representative Gloria Frazier called for the bill, known as HB426, to be put to the Senate for a vote when the legislature resumes next month.
The Justice Department is still investigating Ahmaud Arbery's death to decide if it was motivated by a hate crime.
"Passage of HB 426, the hate crimes bill, would allow citizens to feel safe in the knowledge that the state of Georgia does not accept or tolerate behavior rooted in hate," she said, a point agreed to by both conservative and progressive lawmakers.
Frazier, along with Representative Al Williams and Senator Lester Jackson, also called for this bill to be named the Ahmaud Arbery Hate Crime Bill.
Because the federal government has the authority to bring hate crime charges when there is no state law - and they vary greatly from state to state, leaving out even crimes of homophobia or femicide in some cases - it is now up to the Justice Department to investigate the death of Arbery to decide if such a crime occurred and to act on it.
Meanwhile, fingers are only pointed in one direction, and the debate over who carries the guns and against whom and what the limits of the laws of self-defense remain largely unchallenged. That's why a protest with armed African-Americans causes such a scandal, while when protesters with rifles and pistols of all kinds took over the Michigan Capitol to protest the stay at home order nothing is heard. If nothing is heard in Georgia, tt could be that we continue to measure everything by the same patriotic prejudice