With the release of a video on tuesday showing the killing of Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia, US, another statistic is added to the list of unarmed black men killed by armed white men in the United States. In this most recently published case a vigilante ex-cop, Gregory McMichael saw the 25-year-old Ahmaud jogging past their front yard, out for what the young man’s mother would call his “daily jog”. However McMichael saw a young black man running and immediately called for his son, his guns and his pickup truck. McMichael suspected that the running black male must have been linked to a string of burglaries in the suburban neighborhood but whether this was to do with Ahmaud himself as a suspect or just racial stereotyping by McMichaels, it still does not call for the actions that followed.
The two civilians, Gregory and his son Travis hunted down, and I use the word hunted with all the appreciation of its connotation, the young Ahmaud Arbery with a shotgun and a .357 Magnum Revolver. As a gun-prude Englishman I may not know a lot about guns, but those two are not weapons you take along to question somebody. Even I know the stopping power that those guns have and how they can be used to put a person down. The connotation of this is that the McMichaels thought they’d have to bring that amount of firepower to just speak to a burglary suspect? I think they wanted to do more than that and the video released on tuesday shows what happened. Ahmoud was shot twice at close range with a shotgun by Travis McMichael and a third time by Gregory who was standing in the bed of the truck. Because of the laws around carrying firearms in Georgia, the claim by McMichael that Ahmaud was a suspected burglar and the claim that Ahmaud had fought back “violently” (after being shot) meant that no action was brought against the McMichaels after the killing. In the eyes of the law, going by the McMichaels’ own account, there was no probable cause for arrest as both carrying deadly weapons and the use of deadly force to protect oneself is legal in the state.
But just how necessary are these laws in what should be one of the most “civilised” countries on earth. After all, isn’t the role of the United States’ missions to the Middle East And Africa to help countries within these areas become more advanced and “civilised” themselves? The concept of civility is “the act of showing regard for others by being polite”, even in situations where you may think others less noble. If civility is one of the criteria for the advanced stage of cultural development we call civilisation I don’t think the McMichael’s got the memo. The act of rolling up on an unarmed man with two heavy-hitting firearms and this confrontation leaving said man on the pavement dead reeks of the Wild West, not the civil west we live in. But then maybe we live in different wests.
In the latter half of 2019 Michael Drejka, a white male from Clearwater Florida shot unarmed Markeis McGlockton, a black man. McGlockton was out shopping with his girlfriend and young family when they were confronted by Drejka over a parking space. Drejka, who has a self-confessed “pet peeve” about illegal parking, had noticed McGlockton’s car in a disable spot and was looking for an accompanying sticker. An argument began as McGlockton’s girlfriend asked him what he thought he was doing, which resulted in Markeis getting involved. Witnesses and the prosecutor claim that Drejka purposefully hurled abuse at McGlockton’s girlfriend in an attempt to provoke McGlockton which unfortunately worked. Markeis McGlockton is said to have pushed Drejka, at which point Drejka drew out his concealed firearm and fired it fatally at Markeis McGlockton who died there outside the convenience store, in front of his five-year-old son and while his youngest children were still in the car.
Drejka told police that he “always” carried his gun and had been doing so for 25 years thanks to his concealed weapons permit. The son of a cop, Drejka regularly checked cars parked in disabled spaces for stickers and reported them, sometimes taking pictures. If he thought this was a dangerous line of work to pursue, maybe he should have left it to the people in a civilised society whose job it is to penalise illegal parkers, unless confrontation was what he was after. Sure he could have been scared and intimidated by a man out shopping with his family after aggressively hurling abuse at his girlfriend, but the overarching theme of many of these “white man kills unarmed black male” does seem to be that the victim is killed after what should have been a passive altercation turns violent. In many cases the prosecution has argued, like in McGlocktons case, that the armed white man had provoked the victims into violence with either physical or often verbal abuse, resulting in a reaction and allowing by some state law the use of deadly force.
This is essentially the 18th century practice of dueling but with one party not knowing the rules. If America really wants to stay in those halcyon days of guns at dawn and public showdowns to the sound of creaking saloon doors maybe they should make it official. The laws of the old west, before silicon valley and Palm Beach, were there to keep order and allow people (although mostly white men) to keep their own law and order in a sparsely populated area. The threat of a shooting or the penalty of death was enough to keep most people from doing anything too illegal in the absence of any wide-reaching law enforcement. But after a while, civilisation rolled in from the east and brought an all-encompassing law and order to the west and the rest of the US. So now why, when the federal cops and the government can keep a watchful eye on everything that happens within their borders and without, do american citizens feel the need to be so uncivilised and take the law into their own hands? But more importantly, why is this allowed by law? Is America truly allowed to call-out Saudi Arabia for its state-sanctioned death penalties when frontier justice and vigilante human-hunters are apparently a-ok in the land of the free?
If the United States is serious about being a “civilised nation” they need to show that they understand the concept of civility. The shooting of an unarmed man, whatever race, for whatever reason, is morally and should be lawfully wrong. The fact that when extrapolated to black men, these killings are often sidelined or the killers let off is abhorrent. America has one of the “best” legal systems in the world, it tells us. Then let it be put to use instead of acting as a bureaucratic maze for cases to get lost in. The role and undeniability of law in the country needs to be emphasised so that citizens no longer feel the need to do it themselves. Only this way can we work out if people that feel the need to be their own judge, jury and executioner do so out of a propensity for justice or for violence.