One Year Ago Ahmaud Arbery Died in a Very American Way

Ahmaud Arbery was killed one year ago in a manner consistent with American history

Ahmaud Arbery was killed by Gregory and Travis McMichael with assistance by William “Roddie” Bryan on February 23, 2020. The McMichaels deputized themselves when they and Bryan used their vehicles to box Ahmaud in at the foot of a Brunswick, Georgia street and decided to take his life for the crime of curiosity and running while Black. To reason that Ahmaud’s life was taken for anything other than his Blackness existing outside of their levels of comfort, is to revisit the conversation around his death from a disingenuous place.

What we know with certainty is that Ahmaud was jogging through a residential neighborhood like he always did and became curious about a property that was under construction. He looked into the inside of the unoccupied space and that signaled the McMichaels to decide to “investigate” his motives. The McMichaels then communicated with William “Roddie” Bryan and together they formed a band of hunters that accosted Ahmaud.

Ahmaud, being on the receiving end of their pursuit, fought for his life. As a physically fit, 25-year-old former high school athlete, and most importantly as a free citizen, Ahmaud used every ounce of resistance his body could muster to defend himself against the McMichaels’ entrapment. His fight was not enough for the shotgun Travis McMichael wielded as he stood over Ahmaud’s collapsed body firing three rounds into him.

Ahmaud died in the dead of winter on a sunny day mere weeks before the open world would close on account of the coronavirus pandemic. His direct assailants would roam freely for nearly three months before being arrested on May 7, 2020. 

In the days following Ahmaud’s death, millions of Americans participated in a social media-inspired campaign called #RunWithMaud. The objective: to run/walk 2.23 miles to bring awareness to the February 23rd date of his murder and concurrently keep the Georgia Bureau of Investigations (GBI) on notice that there was an unresolved murder on their watch.

On May 21, 2020, the GBI arrested William “Roddie” Bryan on charges of Felony Murder & Criminal Attempt to Commit False Imprisonment after Bryan did a national television interview in a failed attempt to absolve himself of culpability. In the interview, Bryan pointed to his filming of the incident as evidence that he hoped would “bring justice” to Ahmaud’s family. Instead, he implicated himself in the crime.

The hunt-and-kill of Ahmaud Arbery by The McMichaels and William Bryan felt unimaginable in 2020, but it should not have. Just eight years earlier nearly to the date of Ahmaud Arbery’s death, George Zimmerman enacted the same kind of self-deputized “policing” on Trayvon Martin, resulting in a murder heard around the world and the birth of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Ten months later in the same year (2012), Michael Dunn would shoot and kill 17-year-old Jordan Davis for the crime of loud music, ultimately leading to Dunn’s conviction and Jordan’s mother, Lucy McBath’s advocacy around gun violence propelling her to serve in Congress. Jordan Davis, Trayvon Martin and Ahmaud Arbery all died on account of taking up too much space in proximity to racist white men. Their deaths were 21st-century variations of crimes that had been inflicted on Black Americans for centuries.

In post-Civil War America, Black Codes were established in the American South as a set of restrictive laws designed to limit the freedom of Black Americans and to ensure that they were still accessible to be cheap labor upon the abolition of slavery. The careful monitoring of Black bodies were literally woven into the fabric of post-Reconstruction and Jim Crow laws. These legalities not only emboldened everyday white citizens to serve as judge, jury and executioner but also gave them protection under the law to kill Black folks who were out of bounds with impunity.

These laws birthed the culture of sundown towns and shaped the violence of the 1950s and 1960s Civil Rights era. The ideology of Blackness needing to be controlled and under surveillance never left America and certainly remained prevalent in the American South. Ahmaud Arbery was killed in a rural Georgia county rife with corruption, and a history of racial terror.

Today, Ahmaud’s mother, Wanda Cooper-Jones, is enduring a grim anniversary that many mothers of the movement for Black lives have been met with. It has been one year since her beloved Ahmaud was taken from her in the most American of ways. In an ideal world, we never come to learn of mothers like Wanda, but before their anonymity is possible, America has to be honest about the ways that Black people have been erased for no other reason than existing within the white purview.

It is not an admission one has to look far into the annals of history to come to. A prime example literally occurred one year ago.