Opinions & Editorials

Is it a Crime to be Black in America? An Open Discussion about the Death of Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor

By Jennifer Yin 

Staff Writer 

The United States has fallen into a perpetual cycle of murdering black people and instilling suppressive laws that promotes an uneven distribution of power. The cycle invokes fear and violence towards the black community and starves them from opportunities in which they cannot flourish, as a society. 

Take for example the case of Ahmaud Arbery, 25, who was unjustifiably murdered while running in a neighborhood of Brunswick, GA on Feb. 23. On the tragic day in the Satilla Shores neighborhood, two white men Travis McMichael, 34, and his father, Gregory McMichael, 64, fatally shot Arbery three times while he was protecting himself.

Gregory McMichael, who is a former Glynn County police officer and prosecutorial investigator, told police, “That he and his son grabbed their guns and chased Arbery in their truck, believing he was responsible for burglaries in their neighborhood,” according to a police incident report. Upon approaching Arbery, the McMichaels also told police, Arbery attacked Travis McMichael, who shot Arbery when they both struggled for the shotgun. 

However, The Brunswick News cited documents obtained by public records request reported, “There had been one burglary in the neighborhood since Jan., which was the theft of a handgun from an unlocked truck parked outside Travis McMichael’s home.” 

In addition to the Arbery case is the case of Breonna Taylor, 26, and her boyfriend Kenneth Walker, 27, who were shot while protecting themselves from what they thought was a home burglary. On March 13, just before 1 a.m. three Louisville Metro Police Department officers dressed in plainclothes broke down the door to Taylor and Walker’s residence, with a ‘no knock’ search warrant, that states police could enter a home without identifying themselves. 

Records show that the police investigation and search warrant obtained by the officers was addressed to Jamarcus Glover, who lived 10 miles away from Taylor’s apartment, and was already in police custody. 

In the end Taylor was shot eight times and succumbed to her injuries, while Walker was charged with assault and attempted murder of a police officer. However, Walker was reported to have called 9-11 when the Louisville Metro police officers forced entry and shot at the intruders in self-defense. 


Institutional Racism 

The intentions for Arbery and Taylor’s murder is due to institutional racism, which has been historically associated within the black community. Institutional racism labeled Arbery, Taylor, and Walker as ‘criminals’ before they were recognized as human beings. Therefore their lives were not deemed worthy enough to sleep or run in the United States. 

City College Black Student Union (BSU) President, Nikki Hatfield, 26, joined the discussion by saying, “My initial thoughts are mourning and sadness, that Breonna and Arbery do not have a chance to live their lives because of institutional racism. It is heavy to talk about because it is continuously happening. You get over one hashtag, you feel like you got some justice, then all of a sudden there goes another hashtag.”


White Privilege

The recurrence of police brutality in the United States is often correlated with white privilege, and how white privilege is used to control the lives of black people. “There is this association between blackness and criminality. The fact is white folks feel like it is in their right to police black bodies,” Hatfield said.

The result of both cases exemplifies the concept of white privilege and the inadequacy of the police departments. Both cases had a prolonged time of two months before any actions or arrests were taken. According to documents obtained by the New York Times stated how George E. Barhill, the Waycross district attorney who advised the police said, “There was insufficient cause to arrest Mr. Arbey’s pursuers.” Barnhill further argued how the McMichaels acted legally under GA’s citizens arrest and self-defense laws. 

However, a leaked video of Ahmaud’s murder proved otherwise. The outcry from social media forced prosecutors, district attorneys, and the states to reevaluate. The McMichaels were arrested at their home and booked at the Glynn County jail, according to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. 

“Ahmaud would have never had gotten justice had his video not surfaced on social media for us to be outraged and calling the city and office for accountability. They were never going to give us that type of accountability, and they were never going to charge those boys with murder, had it not been for the community saying, ‘look, look,’” Hatfield said. 


History of White Privilege and Economic Divide 

The McMichaels took advantage of their white privilege and acted as what Hatfield referred to as ‘slave patrols’ when they assumed Arbery was a criminal and felt the need to take actions against him.

“There are societal norms that have been in place due to colonialism, the Antebellum South, the history, and centuries of oppression,” Hatfield said. “When you think about it, of course white folks do not see us as humans because in the 1800’s they literally wrote it down saying we were three fourths of a person.” 

The United States established a system of oppression, in which white police officers were summoned as slave patrols to keep black bodies in their place. 

In the early 1800’s the American South relied exclusively on slave labor. White Southerners lived in constant fear of slave rebellion which to them will disturb their economic status quo. According to historian, Gary Potter, “Slave patrols served three main functions. First is to chase down, apprehend, and return runaway slaves. Second is to provide a form of organized terror to deter slave revolts. Lastly three, was to maintain a form of discipline for slave-workers who were subjected to summary justice outside of the law.”

Hatfield correlates the murders of Arbery and Taylor to an economic and power divide in the United States by saying, “It goes back to this idea that they have the white right. The fact that Ahmaud’s murderers weren’t arrested after the crime? That shows us how deep the inequities are within this country. Same with Brionna, first you’re at the wrong house, second you murdered this woman who was an essential worker, and then you arrest her boyfriend on attempted murder charges? When he just saw the love of his life die?”


Generational Genocide 

The murder of Taylor and Arbery and the incarceration of Walker creates a generational genocide within all of their families. Taylor’s mother, Tamika Palmer and Arbery’s mother, Wanda Cooper-Jones, will never be able to hold their future generations.

When asked what Hatfield’s thoughts are on generational genocide she said, “I agree it is a genocide and it is on us to speak with journalists to get our stories documented. If something were to happen to me tomorrow, Jenn, you have two articles with me where I have clearly stated my position and it is important for us to journal. To have complete stories so that we’ll have complete strategies.” 

In addition, Spatial Designer and Theorist, Kevin Bernard Moultrie Daye, 29, said, “The whole system is designed to keep the black family separate because separating the community is most effective at the family level. So that is why there are so many black men in jail and that is part of it. Destabilizing a community can only work if you can if you can mess it up on a generational level, and that is what has been happening since slavery. Do not teach them how to read and write, make sure they do not have access to the resources they need, introduce drugs into their community that will disrupt the ability of that community to take care of itself, and then criminalize those drugs to have extra incentives to further split the community apart.” 


The Future of Black America 

“The only way to change it is by restructuring the system and by enforcing new standards. For me the only solution is what I call, ‘The Double D’s,’ decriminalize and demilitarize,” Daye said. “The police need to be demilitarized and they do not need to be so heavily armed. In most cases police shouldn’t be armed at all. There are really specific circumstances in which a police officer should even have the ability to have armed force, especially lethal armed force.”

To further explain his theory he stated how police should be demilitarized thus forgoing the act of carrying weapons. “That way a normal, ‘on the beat cop,’ can not accidentally or purposefully kill anyone because they do not need a gun,” said Daye.

Second he suggested decriminalizing crimes as to stop police officers from engaging with black people by saying, “The reason it hasn’t changed for black people is because they (police officers) can just make up any excuse to have to engage with you. If less things were considered criminal, maybe that can be a part of the solution to the problem.” 

Lastly Daye mentioned how we as a society need to start questioning the motives of the police department and the police officers themselves. “I think that everybody should be worried if police can shoot you in your own house. When we are talking about these white people who are killing joggers the issue is not ‘Ahmaud looked at a house earlier today,’ the issue is, ‘Should white people be able to kill people whenever they want?’ If we had a legal system that is asking that question then that would be a good legal system but unfortunately we don’t,” said Daye. 


How Students Can Contribute to the Cause 

Since the case of Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor, multiple media outlets have published comments and petitions highlighting justice for the two. RunWithMaud.com provides a petition for supporters to sign and a phone number for callers to demand justice. For Taylor, Change.org has a petition titled, “Justice for Breonna Taylor,” that had more than 28,000 signatures at press time. 

Hatfield urges City College students and Bay Area residents to support Arbery, Taylor, and Walker.

“Sign petitions, donate to their funds, make them visible on social media pages, and continue to advocate for the end of police brutality. Seeing how we are in San Francisco you gotta communicate with folks. These are places that are far from us but not too far. Be creative in what you can give even if it’s your voice, your money, or your signature, that is what we need is a multitude of strategies. The more people sign the more they know that we are not going to tolerate this behavior.” 

If you would like to join more on this discussion, or contribute your own letter to the editor, please reach out to us on Twitter @theguardsman or via email: jagonzal@ccsf.edu.

The Guardsman