I have spent two weeks watching every minute of the trial of the men who hunted down Ahmaud Arbery and killed him in the street.
I am reminded of something my mother said about the O.J. Simpson trial. After watching for a week or so, she phoned me and said: “I think they should put them all in jail.” “Who?” I asked. “Everybody,” she replied. “The judge, the lawyers, the police, O.J. Simpson, the media, everybody.”
As usual, she made me laugh. But, I’m not doing much laughing at the moment. I’m glad she’s not alive to have gone through four years of Trump, the rise of the fascist Republican party, and the flourishing of the worship of guns and violence. And, I’m glad she’s not seeing the trial in the Ahmaud Arbery case, or the Rittenhouse fiasco.
The trial of the men who murdered Ahmaud Arbery and the Rittenhouse case reveal such a disturbing, depressing side of this country, I can hardly breathe.
The defense in the Ahmaud Arbery trial has been pure racist fear mongering. Ahmaud Arbery was described over and over again as “creeping” and threatening. Travis McMichael testified that there was something not right about him. One defense attorney pointed out that Larry English’s 15-year-old daughter had been on his property. What if, the lawyer exclaimed, she had run across Arbery? “Who knows what would have happened.” One of the defense attorneys actually asked the medical examiner (for no reason other than racist smear mongering) whether Ahmaud Arbery’s toenails were “long and dirty.’
An essential part of the case of the defense has been that the Satilla Shores neighborhood was in fear, under siege, under attack. But, not even the prosecution pointed out in any systematic way that this “neighborhood on edge” was a classic case of what sociologists call a “moral panic.”
Through Facebook and neighborhood watch social media (and probably Fox News) the members of this little subdivision worked themselves up into a frenzy in which mothers were texting other mothers to “get the boys inside” there’s an intruder in the neighborhood and other alarmist messages. One of the neighbors was spending all her time watching surveillance monitors and running armed into the front yard when she suspected something was happening.
You must understand that these people loved what they were doing. They were playing a part in a self-created drama. No matter how much they whine and complain about the danger they were in, they actively participated in ginning up that fear and exaggerating that danger. They shared stories about “intruders” even when those intruders turned out to be relatives of their neighbors whose cars weren’t recognized.
A couple of witnesses even admitted that they never passed information along or heard information which indicated that these alarm notifications were groundless. The initial “crime” that was talked about all over the neighborhood was the stealing of expensive equipment out of Larry English’s boat. At least two witnesses claimed not to have ever known that English himself admitted that he had driven the boat back and forth to several locations and wasn’t sure himself where the equipment was stolen.
But, the neighbors all participated in and got pleasure from sounding the alarm, running armed into situations, telling themselves they were heroes protecting their children. One of the female neighbors testified in talking about one of these incidents something like: My children (elevated voice, MY CHILDREN) were feet away. But, this same woman when she saw police cars with lights on in the neighborhood, drove with all her children in the car to the site of the murder. This woman, so terrified of “intruders” that she freaked out when a man was walking around the neighborhood taking pictures, drove her own children to a murder scene and then complained about how shocking it was.
(Note: She also later went on a boat ride with one of the men who committed this murder).
This woman, who carried a gun herself, was at one point so afraid of what might happen that she thought the McMichaels were going to shoot her husband who was in a vacant house at night searching for an “intruder.”
And we all know how the neighbors whittled down the available suspects who were in the neighborhood (a white couple, white children, a white homeless person, a white man who was arrested in the neighborhood by the federal police) to focus in on the one young black man seen inside the vacant house building site. Well, they actually didn’t “whittle.” They jumped with all the feet they had on this one person, sure that he had committed a crime.
The belief that neighborhood gossip and postings on Facebook are reality, the willingness of people to pass around this speculation as fact, the willingness of these people to run into the streets armed with guns willing to shoot somebody (as long as they are black), and the belief to this day that they did nothing wrong just astounds and depresses me.