If you want to understand what our Black brothers and sisters have been saying for years about always getting the blame for the sins white people commit against them, look no further than a courtroom in Brunswick, Ga., today for evidence of what they mean.
In one of the most outlandish and shameful things I’ve ever heard any attorney utter — and that’s saying a lot already — Laura Hogue, who represents one of the three men accused of chasing down and murdering Ahmaud Arbery, had the chutzpah today to blame the Black young man’s death on him instead of the three men who killed him.
The problem, according to this attorney? Having been chased by pickup trucks and then cornered by three white self-deputized vigilantes and facing the barrel of a gun, Ahmaud Arberty had the audacity — the unmitigated gall, no less — to fight back. That’s why he was shot and killed.
In her closing arguments trying to defend Greg McMichael, who was not the trigger man but was part of the posse, Hogue said Arbery was “running away instead of facing the consequences” and “making terrible, unexpected, illogical choices.”
Just let that sink in for a moment. If anyone made “terrible, unexpected, illogical choices,” it was the three defendants. This is gaslighting pure and simple. And to say that the innocent man who was chased down should not have tried to run away but “face the consequences” simply defies understanding.
What “consequences?” There is no real-life evidence Arbery had done anything illegal, much less committed a crime. To say the Black man should have laid still and faced the consequences assumes the three white men were in the right and he was in the wrong. And even if the three defendants had been right in their assessment, who appointed them judge and jury?
This is straight out of the white racist playbook that dates back to the time this Georgia coastal town was run by white plantation owners treating Black people like their property. And it’s the same thing white people say every time a Black person is shot and killed by police: “Well, if he had just followed orders, he wouldn’t have been shot.”
Hogue is not an inexperienced attorney who simply made a misstatement here. She read these comments from a prepared manuscript. Her resume details her vast experience, her professional affiliations and her lauded community connections. She is a magna cum laude graduate of Mercer University’s School of Law, where presumably she would have brushed up against the biblical prohibition against bearing false witness.
This is an attorney who knows what she’s saying, and she chose to borrow one of the oldest racist tropes ever used in America to make Black people the perpetrators of the very crimes that kill them. By this crazy line of reasoning, Ahmaud Arbery pulled the trigger on himself.
For all the white folks who think systemic racism is made up or is a thing of the past, please pay attention to today’s news. This is what we’ve been trying to tell you.
Here’s another illustration of this reality from just a few weeks ago in Georgia. In October, white students at Coosa High School in Rome, Ga., were captured on video waving a Confederate flag at school and did not face disciplinary action from administrators. But when other students at the high school planned a protest against racism, Black students were suspended for organizing the demonstration, but non-Black organizers weren’t suspended.
Is it any wonder, then, that a young Black man in Georgia having been hunted down by three white men with a gun, would try to run away or defend himself? In this Georgia state of mind, he had been found guilty simply because of the color of his skin.
As a white male, I am not subject to such indignities, but I am weary — bone-tired weary — of trying to convince other white folks that this is a problem. Imagine the weariness of those who actually live with this scourge of prejudice while being told it doesn’t exist.
Mark Wingfield serves as executive director and publisher of Baptist News Global.
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