On February 23, 2020, Ahmaud Arbery — a 25-year-old Black man on a jog in his Brunswick, GA neighborhood — was gunned down and murdered by two white men. On May 7, 2020, those two men, a father and son, were finally arrested — after months of a justice system doing nothing and a few days of intense public outcry.
This step toward justice should have happened long ago. It also cannot bring justice to Arbery, who should still be alive, still be here.
In the last few days, my social media feeds have been filled with Arbery’s name. Many mourned the injustice and in the days before May 7, called for arrests to be made. Since then, #runforahmaud and the idea to run 2.23 miles in Arbery’s memory have gone viral. And, in my feed at least, these posts have cut across partisan lines. People (many white) who have never posted about systemic racism or police brutality before have written posts — angry, grieving, pleading for justice.
Antwon Rose II.
These, too, are Black men who unjustly lost their lives at the hands of miscarriage of justice. And tragically, this is just a short list. What has changed? Yes, Arbery was shot by civilians, rather than police officers. And yes, Arbery could not be blamed in any way for committing a crime. But is our value for human life and justice so conditional that we only grieve for those whose lives are unjustly and unnecessarily taken when they act completely perfectly, complying with a list of rules many of us have never had to ever consider or know? Does making a mistake or reacting out of fear mean that someone deserves to be killed?
No. It doesn’t. And anyone who says otherwise has let their value of life be politicized by a partisan understanding of who deserves justice. Of who deserves life.
And yet, the public outcry in response to Arbery’s murder suggests that far too many of us have let our own senses of justice be twisted in this manner. To be sure, Arbery’s murder was and is evil. And in many ways, to see so many people acknowledge that is heartening. In a world full of many ugly things, it gives me hope that, as MLK said, the arc of the moral universe perhaps does bend toward justice.
To call out and condemn racism is not enough. Particularly so for my white, Christian friends: we must stand against racism and white supremacy. This is the fuel that keeps racist actions and systems alive.
It is easy, comfortable even, to point a finger at obviously evil people doing an obviously evil thing and say, “We must do better than that.” And we must. But, we must also do better than the conspicuously complacent thing that hides in the shadow of the obviously evil. We must continually examine our actions, and how our own privilege contributes to systems of white supremacy. How does our inaction or apathy allow these injustices to persist? How do our empty words put a band-aid on a gaping bullet wound?
I, of course, ask these questions tongue-in-cheek. And also with empathy. As a white woman, I am continually growing in my own awareness of how I contribute to and fail to confront systems of white supremacy. I think back to my own inability — not many years ago — to imagine a system I trusted as being guilty of violence. My own desire to sit in the comfortable reality of believing these deaths could somehow be deserved, rather than grieving that such evil persists.
So what am I saying?
As white people, and especially as Christians, we must do better. We must cry out for Ahmaud Arbery, Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown and all of the others senselessly killed. We must believe Black lives matter, even and especially when our friends and family members are not posting that they do. We must allow our heartbreak now to affect our actions, conversations and voting later. We must listen to Black people and other people of color, and admit that we cannot fully understand their pain and trauma. And when a whole group of people shares their common reality with us, we shouldn’t wait to watch a hideously graphic video to believe them.
Even as a cynic, I do believe the arc of the universe bends toward justice.
I believe this because I believe in Yahweh, sovereign God of the universe and source of all justice; I believe this because I believe in his son, Jesus Christ, source of all redemption on Heaven and on earth. And, as a Christian, I am hopeful. I am hopeful that God is using this moment to turn the hearts of his people to those he cares for: those whose suffering and endured injustice he mourns. Hopeful that all the social media posts mean something — that this will not be an isolated moment of public outrage but instead, a sustained movement toward justice.
The Lord mourns injustice and laments evil and so must we. Even when it is not a social media trend or viral hashtag.