AHMAUD ARBERY: MORAL PANIC

“A moral panic is a widespread fear, most often an irrational one, that someone or something is a threat to the values, safety, and interests of a community or society at large….Moral panics are often centered around people who are marginalized in society due to their race or ethnicity, class, sexuality, nationality, or religion. As such, a moral panic often draws on known stereotypes and reinforces them. It can also exacerbate the real and perceived differences and divisions between groups of people. Moral panic is well known in the sociology of deviance and crime and is related to the labeling theory of deviance.”

The prosecution should have had an academic testify about moral panic.  It is a familiar term, used all the time in sociology, especially among those who work in the fields of criminology and social deviance. 

The people in Satilla Shores worked themselves up into a moral panic about crime in the neighborhood.  It is relatively easy to create such a panic just by word of mouth.  Social media just makes the creation of a moral panics easier.  Once people started talking about, posting about, “intruders” in the neighborhood, and items being stolen, the narrative took on a life of it’s own.

Every unrecognized person becomes an “intruder.”  Every misplaced item becomes “stolen.” Even when individuals encounter facts which disprove the “intruder/crime” label, they rarely go around the neighborhood and tell everybody that they were mistaken.

Several witnesses in this trial admitted that while they had heard that the owner of the construction site thought he had had items stolen from his boat, they never heard that Larry English had driven that boat back and forth to various locations and wasn’t sure himself where these items had been stolen.  English never even told the police that the items were stolen in Satilla Shores.

It was brought out through testimony that strange cars were reported as being in the neighborhood only to later be identified as cars belonging to relatives of residents.  Items that were reported as stolen (including a supposedly loaded gun belonging to Travis McMichael) were left in unlocked vehicles.  One woman who testified whose purse was widely discussed, left her own purse in an unlocked car and it wasn’t stolen.  Somebody reported that their brother-in-law had a case of beer stolen out of a car parked in Satilla Shores.  (Folks, if you believe that one, you are really sheltered.)

What happens when people work themselves up into a moral panic is that every misplaced item becomes “stolen” and fodder for more gossip and speculation. 

RACISM AND AHMAUD ARBERY.

I watched every minute of the trial of the men who killed Ahmaud Arbery. 

It was a weekday afternoon and the Medical Examiner took the stand.  I was tired, everybody seemed tired.  The Medical Examiner was not the most riveting witness.  He had retired and then decided he wanted to go back to work, so he came to Georgia and was hired as the Medical Examiner.  He was professional, soft spoken, and businesslike.

Like most people, probably, my mind was wandering.

Then, Bob Reuben, defense attorney for Travis McMichael asked the Medical Examiner (ME) if Ahmaud Arbery’s body had “long, dirty toenails.”  The ME said yes. 

What?  My head popped up.  Even my tired ears perked up.  What the devil was that about?

I was appalled.  What reason could Reuben have for asking such a question?  But, no more was made out of it.  I tweeted about it at the time.  What reason, I asked, other than just trying to make Ahmaud Arbery seem distasteful, could the defense have for asking this question?

I found out the answer on Monday. 

Laura Hogue, attorney for Greg McMichael, got up before the jury and blew every racist, fear mongering whistle imaginable.  Then, she commented that Ahmaud Arbery was wearing tennis shoes, without socks to “cover his long dirty toenails.”  Again, I was just appalled.  She drew out the words, speaking every one of them distinctly as if conveying meaning to the jury.  “…long……..dirty……toenails.”

This was no off-the-cuff remark.  It was intentional, prepared for by Reuben asking the question of the ME.  Hogue couldn’t have used in closing something that wasn’t entered into evidence. Reuben asked the question to get it in and Hogue followed up by using it in the closing.

Arbery’s parents were mortified.  The father left the courtroom and both parents commented on the courthouse steps about how disgusting it was for the defense to try to smear Ahmaud Arbery’s character.  I completely agree.

Lawyers on national television criticized the comment, but then defended Laura Hogue’s right to use it.  As one attorney commented, the defense attorney has the obligation to use whatever it takes to defend the client.  But, that is just bullshit.

It’s the kind of reasoning that allows lawyers to argue that they do not have any obligation to moral standards at all.  And, it is simply not true.  It’s the kind of argument that allows lawyers to sleep at night and be accepted at the Bar Association cocktail party.  It makes me furious.

No lawyer had the obligation to use racist hate mongering and smear tactics to defend their client. 

Hogue (female) has, of course, defended herself by saying that she was merely trying to demonstrate that Ahmaud Arbery was not a jogger.  I’ve got news for her.  Some people jog without socks.  And, even if you accept the no-socks defense as fair game, the “long, dirty toenails” was not.

Trust me, the same lawyers who will gin up racial hatred and dehumanizing stereotypes will also try to pick a fascist jury, arouse fascist sentiments and dehumanizing stereotypes to defend Nazis.  It’s only a matter of time.  And they will go on national television and defend themselves and their colleagues will defend them as well.

This behavior by the defense, and it does not only apply to Hogue (the female) was planned defense strategy. Reuben asked the ME the question to get the testimony on the record.  Hogue (the female) hit it out of the park.  All the defense attorneys in this case are part of the racist defense strategy utilized throughout the entire trial and they should all be condemned, shunned and disbarred.