The Damn Victim: Ahmaud Arbery Case

What happened in Satilla Shores in late 2019 and 2020, was what sociologists call a “moral panic.” 

Neighbors in an almost exclusively white neighborhood started exchanging stories of supposedly stolen property, break ins.  They posted these stories on the internet, specifically on a website that was a neighborhood sharing site.

They were drawn in and drew other people into a dramatic narrative.  There was danger in the neighborhood. 

People just like drama, most of them.  And, this is a culture where crime drama is big business.  Just think of the amount of money that is made off marketing crime, true and fiction.

There are entire TV networks that depend on crime for their cash stream.  Think about Court TV, Headline News and all the reality crime shows like Cops.  Think about the fictional crime series, Law and Order which I think is in it’s 100th season.  People love a good crime drama.

In Satilla Shores, in late 2019 and into 2020, there was a great crime drama shaping up.  The problem was that it was largely in the minds of the residents. 

Larry English was building a house in Satilla Shores.  He had been working on that house for over two years.  The house was framed in, but without doors and windows at least in the front of the house.  English did not live there.  He lived in Douglasville and commuted back and forth to Brunswick to work on his house.

The house was completely open. There were no trespassing signs on it.  There was no fence, there was essentially nothing to prevent any remotely curious person from coming in and walking around.

And, curious people did. 

Larry English had had his boat parked at the house, in the opened RV garage.  One day, when English got up on a ladder, he noticed that items had been stolen out of his boat.  He then began telling neighbors that these items had been stolen.  The problem was that English had not always had the boat parked at the property at Satilla Shores.  He had taken the boat back and forth from Douglasville (and I presume other places).  So, English had no idea that the property was stolen from the location at Satilla Shores.

But, either English didn’t make that clear to the neighbors, or they didn’t want to hear that.  They started buzzing about things being stolen, intruders who might possibly be in the neighborhood.

Also during this time period, a neighbor down the street, Travis McMichael, left his gun in his truck, parked outside his house.  His father, Greg, went out to move the truck and left it unlocked.[1]  The gun was reportedly stolen.  This also set off a buzz in the neighborhood.  A gun had been stolen, high drama.

I do not know, but I can imagine that in this circumstance, every other item that went missing in the neighborhood came to be yet another potentially stolen item, taken by the mysterious intruder, hyping the danger in the minds of the community.

A woman whose parents lived in the neighborhood testified on November 10, 2021 that her elderly parents were concerned about the amount of crime in the neighborhood and were therefore selling their house.  But, when you look at the official Glynn County data, this crime wave does not appear.  There was only one officer assigned to the entire area and it was considered a “low call” area for the police. [2]

But anyone can imagine how this worked.  The drama grew.  Items went missing.  Neighbors had something to talk about, post about.  All of a sudden, people had a mission, an endeavor that was larger than all of them and that united them in a common cause.

In steps Ahmaud Arbery, doing what I and countless people have done hundreds of times before, and walks into the open construction site to look around.  I want to make clear here.  I grew up in Georgia.  I live in Georgia now.  I have gone in a number of partially completed houses while out on a walk.  I have also gone in repeatedly to a house that was completed and had a door that was unlocked.  But, I am a 70-year-old white woman.  I am not a young black man with “dred locks” “fuzzy hair” “tatoos all down both arms” “colored”.

In the middle of all this drama, the perfect victim walked in.  Every racist joke and stereotyped reaction came to play to home in on this one young black man.  “Ya got ‘em?”  That’s what William Bryan shouted out to the two McMichael men in their truck following Arbery down the street.

The crime drama was about to be solved by two, then three, self imagined heroes.   “Ya got ‘em?”  Oh hell yeah, we got him.  These three men did what thousands and thousands of white men have done over the years in this country.  They targeted a young black man, armed themselves and hunted him down, they cornered him “like a rat.” [3] And then they killed him.

These men saw themselves as the avenging angels in this story.  You can still tell by looking at them that they feel that they are ones who are aggrieved here.  They are the ones who have been wronged.

Travis McMichael stood over the body of Ahmaud Arbery and expostulated “Damn Nigger.” [4]  Travis McMichael was swearing at Ahmaud Arbery, and/or about Ahmaud Arbery.  That N made me do this.  It’s all his fault.  And that’s exactly what the defense attorneys in this case are arguing.

This is all Arbery’s fault.  If he hadn’t been in the neighborhood.  If he hadn’t been curious.  If he hadn’t run.  If he had talked to them.  If he hadn’t reached into his pants.  If he hadn’t run at Travis.  If he had stopped.  If he hadn’t been “hauling ass,” nothing would have ever happened.  Everything would be alright.

White men commit the most unspeakable crimes and then blame it on the damn victim.

[1] Much has been made during the trial by the Defense that Greg McMichael is a trained law enforcement officer. Bur, this trained law enforcement officer left a gun in an unlocked truck outside his home. Any neighborhood child could have come and taken the gun and shot himself or others with it.

[2] When the Prosecution moved to place these official crime statistics into evidence, the defense objected.  The official statistics were “hearsay” claimed the defense even though this data was submitted regularly to the FBI and became part of national crime statistics.  The prosecution was required to “certify” the information.  We do not know how this happens or if the Prosecution will try to put the crime statistics on the record again.

[3] This is a direct quote from a statement made by Greg McMichael.

[4] I have never written that word before in my life and I have never said it unless I was describing another person’s statement.  I grew up in the South.  I know what that word means.

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