Ahmaud Arbery, Breanna Taylor and the Rise of Vigilantes and State-Sponsored Violence
By Makheru Bradley
“All history is a current event.” – Dr. John H. Clarke
"The past is never dead. It's not even past." – William Faulkner
Racial violence directed towards people of Afrikan descent runs through the veins of America. It’s always there with varying degrees of intensity and scales. There are times when socio-political conditions cause widespread, high intensity eruptions. The “Redemption” campaign which overthrew Reconstruction, the Red Summer of 1919, and the reaction to the Civil Rights Movement were three of those periods of high intensity white racial violence.
It appears that the United States has been moving in that direction over the past 6 years. Many pundits blame President Donald Trump for the current rise of racial animus in America. Certainly, Donald Trump has exacerbated racial tensions in this country, but he is not the progenitor of this history. Dylann Roof killed the Charleston Nine while President Obama was in office. The modern day lynching of Eric Garner and Tamir Rice occurred under Obama. However, the election of Trump in 2016 has emboldened white supremacists to escalate varying degrees of confrontations and violence against Afrikan people in the United States. Below are two examples of this increasing hostility.
The Killing of Ahmaud Arbery in Brunswick, Georgia
On February 23, 2020, when 25-year-old Ahmaud Arbery crossed US 17 on one of his daily jogs into the predominately white community of Satilla Shores he had no idea that he would be marked for murder. Ahmaud stopped during this particular jog and walked into a home under construction, before continuing. Two white men, former police officer Gregory McMichael and his son Travis, became aware of Ahmaud’s presence and as he passed them on his jog, they decided that he was a burglar. The McMichael’s armed themselves and joined by William Bryan, began a more than four-minute chase of Ahmaud that ended with a struggle for life, and three shotgun blasts from Travis McMichael that killed Ahmaud Arbery.
The Brunswick police reported to Ahmaud’s family that he had been killed while breaking into a home. On February 29, the Arbery family learned from a news report that Ahmaud had been gunned down in the street. That started their demands for justice, the wheels of which turned slowly for 74 days, before national pressure, a graphic video snippet of the killing, and a third district attorney led to a state investigation. The Georgia Bureau of Investigation, on May 7th, arrested Gregory and Travis McMichael for killing Ahmaud Arbery. They were both charged with murder and aggravated assault. As of this writing, the third chaser, William Bryan, has not been arrested. Based on the past history of racially charged cases, arrests don’t always result in convictions, but evidence against the McMichael’s is mounting. Will justice prevail?
The No-Knock Raid That Killed EMT Breonna Taylor in Louisville, Kentucky
Before March 13, 2020 the family of first responder, 26-year-old Breonna Taylor, was more concerned about her job during the COVID-19 pandemic than the possibility of Louisville police shooting her eight times in her home. At close to 1 a.m. on that March morning three plainclothes officers, with a judge had approved a "no-knock" search warrant for drugs, bashed into Breonna’s apartment.
The forced entry awakened Breonna and her boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, 27. Believing their home was being invaded Walker called 911, grabbed a gun and fired, shooting an officer in the leg. Walker had a license to carry firearms. Taylor was unarmed. Neither Taylor nor Walker had any criminal history or drug convictions, and no drugs were found in the apartment during the raid.
A Taylor family lawsuit accuses the officers of "blindly firing" more than 20 shots into the apartment. Breonna was shot eight times and died. Walker was arrested and charged with assault and attempted murder on a police officer. Breonna’s family said the police were looking for Jamarcus Glover, who lived in a different part of Louisville and was already in police custody when Breonna’s home was raided.
Breonna Taylor was killed for no reason. Some legal experts have said there were no grounds for a “no-knock warrant” in this case. University of Arkansas law professor Brian Gallini said, “If it was appropriate here, then every routine drug transaction would justify grounds for no-knock.” The apartment did not have cameras, nor were drugs found during the search.
The killing of Breonna Taylor and arrest of Kenneth Walker is another example of the law running roughshod over justice when it comes to Afrikan Americans. My guess is that Louisville will use taxpayer money to settle with the Taylor family, but that is not justice. Growing protests are demanding that the Louisville officers be charged and that charges against Kenneth Walker be dropped.
Dr. Martin L. King said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” Any group of people without power will be continuously faced with injustice. Frederick Douglass said it best in 1857.
“If there is no struggle there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom and yet deprecate agitation are men who want crops without plowing up the ground; they want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters.
This struggle may be a moral one, or it may be a physical one, and it may be both moral and physical, but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them, and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress.”
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