A man was jogging in his neighbourhood in Glynn County, Georgia on a Sunday afternoon when he was confronted by two men. Within minutes, his body lay on the ground, covered with bullets and blood.
His name is Ahmaud Arbery—a black man. And his killers are Greg McMichael and his son, Travis McMichael—two white men.
By now, you’ve probably seen the horrific video of Ahmaud Arbery’s death. In the short video, we see Arbery jogging on a road, toward Greg McMichael and Travis McMichael, who had apparently driven ahead of Arbery and parked their pick-up truck on the road, blocking the road and waiting for Arbery with their shotguns.
When Arbery nears them, he moves to the right side of the truck, seemingly attempting to avoid Travis, who is standing in the middle of the road—left of the pickup truck—with his shotgun. However, Travis seemingly moves toward Arbery with his shotgun, and the two men get into an altercation. Within ten seconds into the struggle, Travis shoots Arbery three times—and he collapses to the ground.
I’ve seen the video several times, and tears fill my eyes every time, including right now, as I write these words—watching the video over and over again to make sure my description of the incident is accurate.
Nevertheless, as incriminating as the video appears to be, I know it isn’t wise and righteous to rush to judgement. That is the basis for my blog, after all. I named my blog after James 1:19 because I strive to be quick to listen and slow to speak, quick to read and slow to write.
Therefore, after analyzing all the facts of the case so far, I’m glad Greg and Travis McMichael were arrested for Ahmaud Arbery’s death last night.
The McMichaels claim they killed Arbery in self-defence after following Georgia’s citizen’s arrest law—a law that allows any person in Georgia to arrest criminals. And for that reason, their story seems believable to some. Greg McMichael is a former police detective, and 911 calls presumably by the McMichaels before the incident suggest they apparently believed Arbery was a criminal—a thief responsible for supposed robberies in the neighbourhood.
However, that doesn’t justify their actions. In fact, they violated Georgia’s citizen arrest laws. The law doesn’t allow citizens to arrest a person just because they suspect they may have committed a crime. As one attorney in Georgia said, “You have to see the crime to enable to the arrest.” And, the citizen’s arrest law doesn’t give private persons a license to kill suspected criminals either.
Therefore, even if Greg and Travis McMichael had good intentions—and there’s legitimate reasons to doubt that—by violating proper procedure, at the very least, they forced Ahmaud Arbery into an unnecessary and irresponsible confrontation that compelled Travis to kill him. That is unjustifiable. That is murder.
If I’m seeing the facts clearly, Greg McMichael and Travis McMichael should be guilty of murder. However, while we wait for justice, while we wait for the alleged murderers to be held accountable, we should also anticipate that every idle reaction to the apparent murder will also be held accountable by God.
Naturally, the alleged murder led to strong reactions on social media. And many of the strong reactions were necessary and helpful, especially since it apparently led to the McMichael’s arrest. However, some of these strong reactions were produced by careless thoughts and tweets against Greg and Travis McMichael and Ahmaud Arbery.
It’s disappointing, though predictable, that an apparent murder would entice many to sin. Indeed, sin always provokes more sin. But that doesn’t make it justifiable. In reaction to the video of the fatal shooting, some people refused to be slow to tweet. They readily defended the McMichaels’, insisting Arbery was a criminal who deserved to die. They will give an account to God for their idle tweets.
Others, however, refused to be slow to tweet too. They readily accused the McMichaels’ of murdering Arbery because of racism. And they will also give an account to God for their idle tweets.
Just as Georgia’s law doesn’t give citizens a license to murder supposed criminals, God’s law doesn’t give us license to slander and bear false witness against others, including murderers.
The facts suggest the McMichaels are guilty of murder. But the facts, do not prove or disprove they murdered Arbery because of his skin colour. The skin colour of murderers and their victims and the racist actions of other white men throughout Georgia’s history isn’t evidence of a racially motivated murder.
Maybe, the only legitimate reason for believing that racism may have played a factor in the McMichael’s criminal pursuit of Arbery is that the 911 callers described his skin colour to the dispatcher. However, physical descriptions of supposed criminals in 911 calls aren’t uncommon. Of course, that doesn’t disprove that racism may have played a factor—but it doesn’t prove it either.
Injustices against black men are not synonymous with racist injustices against black men. And if we react to these injustices in a careless and slanderous manner, we’re not just guilty of sin, but we’re also guilty of contributing to the divisions, tensions, and anxieties in our society.
Several years ago, I was unjustly fired from my job by a new boss who made it known that he didn’t like me. He fired me after he blamed me for an incident at work, an incident that wasn’t my fault. I was devastated. A few weeks later, when I was in better spirits, I shared that story with a white woman. And almost as soon as I finished telling her what happened, she readily suggested that I was fired because of my skin colour.
I’m sure she meant well. And maybe my boss fired me because of racism, but maybe, he fired me for other unjust reasons. I don’t know. She especially didn’t know either. She didn’t know anything about my boss–except he was white. So her accusation was slanderous.
But she presumably slept well that night—I didn’t. Because of her comments, no matter how well-intentioned she may have been, she made me more anxious and more sorrowful than I probably should have been.
Many white people routinely fail to recognize the level of anxiety they burden black people with because of their idle and careless words about supposed racism. And I fear, Travis and Greg McMichael and many careless people—white, black, and all people—have made some black people, especially young black people afraid to jog in peace.