For close to two months, national news has settled into a 24-hour COVID-19 party-line circle jerk of fear and conjecture. But one story managed to finally break through the din. 10 weeks after it took place, the public watched the recorded execution of a 25-year-old black man, Ahmaud Arbery.
While white people stayed home and expressed gratitude for tidy reminders to ‘not take things for granted,’ Ahmaud Arbery had already been shot dead in the street.
Arbery’s death reached the public consciousness not because of justice, but because of injustice. It took 74 days to arrest his killers. Two white men. According to police reports, they saw Arbery run past them, and then they went home to grab their guns. Then they followed him in their truck.
Then they waited on the road ahead where they gunned him down. In broad daylight.
Authorities had the video long before 74 days lapsed. But arrests only came because the video was leaked online earlier this week. His killers weren’t arrested in the pursuit of justice. They were detained as a last, desperate act to protect the illusion of white purity.
Make no mistake — you’ll see white people signaling the virtues of integrity and justice now that it’s worth a few political points.
But otherwise, it certifies in Arbery’s blood what the public has long known deep within their bones:
Black lives don’t matter.
Public cries for black justice are today’s virtue of convenience. White people won’t discuss Ahmaud Arbery’s name in church on Sunday longer than they’ll hype the renovation of Sunday School rooms. They’ll speak on it for as long as their cable news channel of choice indicates it’s OK to stop. And niche blogs will once again dedicate precious airtime to the heroics of Demi Lovato for not wearing makeup during quarantine.
Ahmaud Arbery would be another nameless, dead black kid if not for the Internet. A righteous verdict — if he gets it — will have been compelled from the public, not from law and order. Not from the pursuit of justice and liberty for all.
Lest we forget that Arbery would still be alive if he’d stormed the Michigan capitol in white face with a gun drawn because he wanted a haircut.
This shouldn’t happen. But it still does. #Blacklivesmatter planted its roots in the summer of 2013, ironically, to protest the killing of another unarmed black kid. Trayvon Martin.
And behind the backdrop of white people screaming that all lives matter, or that blue lives matter, seven years later, we’re here again. For black people, though, this is where they’ve been the whole time. Don’t act surprised.
Arbery’s family gave the media pictures of their son in a tuxedo, sporting an earnest smile, because they know better.
They know that the bar for black justice rests on the top of a mountain. And to reach that high, they must climb without a single misstep. And one such step is to go to great, purposeful lengths to find a photo that guarantees the public sees their baby as a human being. No white family must proactively rid the public of a preconceived notion that their child is a troublemaker, a gangbanger, a drug user.
The premise of #blacklivesmatter is idiot-proof in its simplicity. But the ire it draws from white people isn’t for lack of understanding, or ambiguity about the sentiment behind the rallying cry. It’s simply this — they don’t want to hear it.
They react as if they’re being attacked, because their conscience has been challenged. And they don’t like it.
More specifically, they don’t want to be challenged to take up the mantle of someone else’s cause other than their own.
If protestors had said #doglivesmatter and you were an avowed dog lover, you wouldn’t take the rallying cry as a personal affront to your values. And that’s because you know, unequivocally, that you love dogs.
How outrageous is it that we’d have to draft a catchy hashtag and march on the steps of a state capitol building just so others would accept it as true.
No, you only respond with vitriol and outrage when someone else’s rallying cry awakens a powerful hate somewhere deep in your rotting core. And you know that hate is real, small or insignificant as it may seem to you.
So no, black lives don’t matter.
They don’t matter because we need a national media circus to force the hands of a local government to arrest their killers. Black lives don’t matter because it takes 10 weeks and the leak of a murder recorded on video for people in power to act. Black lives don’t matter because black families raise their kids with an entirely different set of rules and behavioral mandates to ensure they don’t get arrested or killed. Because they know their very lives are at stake.