Solidarity With Ahmaud Arbery
On February 23, 2020, Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year-old, unarmed Black man, was shot and killed in broad daylight while out for a jog in a Brunswick, Georgia, suburb by a white father and son who subsequently claimed they were trying to make a “citizen’s arrest.” As the graphic video makes waves across the internet months later, communities of color are in mourning yet again. Our hearts go out to Ahmaud Arbery’s family and friends, and we join those across the country grappling with agonizing feelings of loss, pain, and injustice.
Ahmaud Arbery’s killing and the official response immediately thereafter have many hallmarks of the vigilante (in)justice, violent racism, and blind indifference by authorities that characterized brutal aspects of the South’s past. But as so many impacted people know, embedded just beneath the surface of incidents like this is a more pervasive and insidious legacy of our nation’s collective past: implicit and explicit racial biases. As former Chief Justice of the Georgia Supreme Court Leah Ward Sears recently explained:
“My husband (is a) dark-skinned Black man, and he’s afraid to go walking in the evening because somebody might shoot him… I’ve got a son. He doesn’t live with me. Is he in peril? Is my daughter going to get roughed up on the Beltline? It’s too much. I’ve lived this way since the year I was born in 1955, and I’m tired of it.”
Implicit and explicit racial biases haunt the daily lives of people of color in our country and result in the often-observed presumption that Black and Brown people are guilty and dangerous. These racial biases inform misguided policy decisions resulting in mass incarceration, overcriminalization, and excessive sentences. They facilitate a criminal legal system routinely characterized by unreliability, inequality, and unfairness, where people often suffer different consequences depending upon their race and access to the powerful.
As we work daily to free Georgia’s imprisoned innocent–including on an active case in the Brunswick Judicial Circuit–we cannot miss the stark resemblance between the details of this case and those of our clients, most of whom resembled Ahmaud when their lives changed forever: young, Black, full of promise, and wrongfully assumed to be guilty and dangerous because they are Black.
One need only look at the rates of wrongful convictions among Black people to see that “presumption of innocence” and “proof beyond a reasonable doubt” mean different things depending on the race of the defendant.
We at Georgia Innocence Project stand in solidarity with the many brave people demanding justice and accountability in the wake of Ahmaud Arbery’s killing and so many similar deaths. As individuals and as a society, we all must continue to work to recognize, acknowledge, and eradicate implicit and explicit racial biases. Law enforcement must remember they have a duty to protect and serve the entire community, not just a select few. Prosecutors must act promptly and with integrity to ensure equal protection of the laws and equal justice. And we must not forget that justice delayed is often, as here, justice denied.