A Sickening Story and the Injustice It Illuminates

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Truth be told, I do not know exactly what to write or how to write it. But I feel compelled to write…

…something.

As I process a story from Brunswick, Georgia that I almost never even heard, my soul feels both sick and complicit.

I refer to the story of the pursuit and fatal shooting of Ahmaud Arbery, an unarmed 25-year-old black man, during what, for Ahmaud, was a Sunday afternoon jog in a neighborhood that should have felt like safe and familiar territory to him.

The shooting took place on February 23rd, 2 ½ months ago. I am processing the story now only because of the recent emergence of a video that has placed Ahmaud’s shooting starkly and graphically in our country’s consciousness.

“We don’t know all the details,” some will be quick to declare. But we know enough to be reminded of this inescapable truth: It is not the same America for Ahmaud Arbery as it is for the men who had both the agency and falsely-perceived justification to arm themselves and confront him. The shooters and the victim lived in the same geographical vicinity. But, in terms of their standing in a nation that is still plagued and driven by systemic racism, Ahmaud and the men who pursued and shot him were light years apart.

I hear it from so many of my white colleagues, even in the church: “Enough with the racism talk! It’s only an issue because you are making it one!” Some are inclined to make their rejection of the conversation even more pointed: “There is no such thing as ‘white privilege.’ It is nothing but an artificial social construct designed to perpetuate a liberal agenda and to manipulate the conversation.” I have heard such sentiments. I suspect you have as well.

But the tragic story of Ahmaud Arbery reminds us of how wrongheaded and dangerous such sentiments are. The moment I am tempted to believe that systemic racism no longer exists or that white privilege is not a reality, I simply have to spend a moment telling myself this truth: That, as a white male, I could travel to any suburban American neighborhood right now, park my car, even put on a mask (given the COVID-19 dynamics), and take a leisurely jog without giving a single thought to either my wellbeing or the possibility of being presumed guilty of a crime. If that is not a societal privileging based upon whiteness, what else could we possibly call it? To ignore or deny such privileging’s continued impact upon the moral dynamics of our nation compromises and even corrupts the integrity of our nation’s very identity.

The story of Ahmaud Arbery brings all of these things and many others into quick and unnerving focus. It is a story not to be minimized, not only because of the depth of its tragedy, but also because of the urgency of what it illuminates.

As I write these words, I am keenly aware of the fact that I write them from a place of privilege. All that I have to worry about is the possibility of being misunderstood or mischaracterized or tuned-out or resented, none of which is life-threatening or even remotely risky. But I want this privileged voice to speak about the stories that matter most, and the story of Ahmaud Arbery is one of those stories.

It is a story that matters to his family and friends.

It is a story that matters to a nation still burdened by the weight of a racism that produces such a story.

It is a story that matters to faith communities, including the Church, where narratives about justice and the sacred worth of all people must frame Ahmaud’s shooting as an agonizing affront to any theological worldview grounded in Truth.

It is a story that matters to the broken heart of this writer, who, while not always knowing how to write or how to speak, longs for his inadequate words to be interpreted as both an outcry against the injustice that Ahmaud experienced and a call for a shared recommitment to the dismantling of the systemic racism that makes such injustice all too common.

I will say it once more—As I process this story from Brunswick, Georgia that I almost never even heard, my soul feels both sick and complicit.

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5 thoughts on “A Sickening Story and the Injustice It Illuminates

  1. Thank you,Eric! I cannot even begin to imagine what
    he went through…and what his family and all who are suffering with the pain and bigotry of his murder!
    May all eyes be opened to the evil growing in our midst, and then let God work through us to make the changes that are needed!

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  2. Eric, I think what makes his death so horrific is that these two men chased him down. Then one of the men stood in the back of the pickup and shot him, not just once but three times. In my own small sheltered world, I guess that I thought these vigilante groups had disappeared. This was an innocent man who was tracked down mainly because of the color of his skin. I’m sure the truth of this story will remain in the front of our minds for many, many years. This is indeed a sad trait of America these days.

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  3. No white privilege,some say? How ‘bout the armed protestors inside the Michigan state capital? Try to imagine for one moment, if they would have been black protestors. Or what about the (white) protestors demanding businesses be opened up so they can get their hair cut? Guess the freedoms they feel they are being denied are just way different that the freedom Colin Capernick expressed when he was kneeling (protesting) the aforementioned disparity towards young black men we have witnessed yet again…..Or have they now come to see that both freedoms are the same? Don’t think so.

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  4. You, of all people, never lack the words. It is just that there aren’t any. It’s a mess. Many good people are trying to help and correct things but it’s our hearts. I am praying that this time we are separated can be a reset and a listening time, to realize and repent of all the sin, especially sin we are unaware of. God, please help us.

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