Ahmaud Arbery: We Need Change in Our Justice Systems
Updated: May 12
Ayesha Khan | Toronto, Canada
I recently picked up The Autobiography of Malcolm X which documents the life and hardships of a Black civil rights activist in the United States during the mid-1900s. As an African-American living in a society dominated by White superiority, Malcolm X details the gruesome racial violence he encounters from an early age. Much of his anger in response to this violence is directed towards the American justice system which allowed the slavery, murder and mistreatment of Black Americans to go under the radar in the mid-1900s. Up until a few days ago, I felt that we had progressed far as a society since the events of this autobiography. And then I heard about Ahmaud Arbery’s senseless killing and the accompanying lack of action. I couldn’t help but draw infuriating parallels between Malcolm X’s flawed American society and our 'progressive' society in 2020.
Ahmaud Arbery was a 25-year-old man in Georgia, USA out for a jog on February 23rd in a predominantly White neighbourhood. An athlete in high school, he loved to run and did so often. As he harmlessly pursued an activity he enjoyed, he was shot and killed by Gregory and Travis McMichael, a former investigator and his son. So, what was his ‘crime’? He was Black and reportedly looked like a burglary suspect. Somehow, these grounds justified his killing to the legal officials. On the basis of a 'self-defence' law in Georgia, the prosecutor with the case concluded that no crime was committed. Recently, the case resurfaced on social media and through public pressure, the suspects were arrested.
74 days went by before any arrests were made.
74 days went by without any legal involvement in a clear murder case.
74 days went by without any consolidation to Arbery’s family.
74 days because, apparently, when White men decide to stalk and kill a Black person they’ve never met nor been hurt by, a 'self-defence' law becomes applicable. Needless to say, if the roles were reversed in this scenario a different outcome would have ensued. The fact that this is not remotely the first case of its kind tells us how flawed the American justice system is. Racial biases and corruption are embedded so deeply within the American justice system that one’s skin colour is often the single most important factor in a legal case.
This case is an example of the systematic oppression of Black people and minority groups in America. When a powerful system that dictates how people live (ie. the justice system or the government) is inherently oppressive and biased towards a certain group of people, injustices go unaddressed. The power imbalance between the oppressed group and the system makes it difficult to get justice in due time.
The entire justice system often dictates the change that activists strive to make. So, can we, as activists, make a tangible change when the system itself is flawed?
If anything, I think Ahmaud’s tragic case proves that with enough action and activism, we can eventually bring about justice. After the case was brought to light on Facebook, prominent activists, civilians and celebrities throughout the nation ignited a social media movement to raise awareness about the blatant racial profiling and put pressure on officials to arrest the suspects. Countless online petitions, artwork, video pleas and movements like #IRunWithMaud began in pursuit of justice for Ahmaud Arbery. As more people became aware, more influential figures also became involved. As a collective, activists were able to put enough pressure on officials to arrest the suspects. Change occurred in spite of a flawed system.
Although, this change took too long. When a system is so oppressive, activism can only have a delayed effect. If legal officials can silence certain cases then activists would not know about these cases in the first place.
We need to start addressing and fixing these systems that are inherently biased.
As young activists, the best way to approach this is through awareness and education. Educate yourselves about what injustices are being committed discreetly within the systems of your community. Spread awareness by creating a social media page dedicated to these injustices, write letters to people in power or use art and other forms of media to inspire others to join your cause.
Put pressure on the people holding power within these systems. If everyone were to raise awareness and generate pressure to fix the flaws within the justice systems around the world, we would see fewer cases handled as deplorably as Ahmaud’s.
Ahmaud Arbery did all the things a 'non-threatening' person ought to do: he was jogging in a public space without being armed in any way. Yet, that still was not enough for the men who shot him down. It’s devastating enough that he was murdered due to the racist rhetoric that thrives in America, but what astounds me is how the system that is supposed to restore justice to society let everyone down. I pray that his memory is honoured and that we finally put an end to the systematic oppression of Black people and all minority groups. May he and all victims of racial violence rest in power.
References and important links about the developing case: