It is the day before Thanksgiving, and Black people, not only in the United States but all over the world, are holding a vigil, praying for justice in the killing of Ahmaud Arbery.
Arbery is the 25-year-old unarmed Black man who was followed, harassed, and shot to death by three white men who decided they didn’t like it that he was running in a predominantly white neighborhood in 2020.
The jury deciding their fate is made up of 11 white people, and one Black. (https://www.usatoday.com/in-depth/news/nation/2021/11/07/ahmaud-arbery-trial-jury-what-we-know/6269841001/)
And this trial is happening in Georgia.
In a trial that ended last week, Black people were not surprised that Kyle Rittenhouse, the young white teen who traveled to Kenosha, Wisconsin because he heard about protests going on in response to the shooting of Jacob Blake by police officers was completely exonerated. From the outset of that trial, as the judge ruled that the two men who were killed – white men, mind you – could not be called victims, Black people knew we were on the battlefield on injustice once again. The judge seemed unimpressed and was unmoved by the fact that Rittenhouse had traveled to this city, with his gun, and according to reports was the aggressor of the two men he killed. They had guns, but they did not attempt to shoot Rittenhouse. It was Rittenhouse who opened fire and then walked through the streets carrying his AR-47, unbothered by police.
He said he was defending himself. That is always the go-to defense. All a white person has to say is “I was in fear for my life” and he/she generally gets off. In this case, it wasn’t Black people who were posing a threat, but white sympathizers, and that fact apparently gave the court justification for Rittenhouse’ actions. From what reports I read, one of the victims used a skateboard to try to knock the gun out of Rittenhouse’s hand as he aimed it at them.
It seems that the now-dead were trying to defend and protect themselves.
But we knew. We knew from the spirit of that trial. We knew because of the rancidly racist spirit of this country that Rittenhouse would get off. He was released and is being hailed as a hero. The former president called him a “nice young man,” and several Republican members of Congress are supposedly considering him a good candidate to be a congressional intern.
As we awaited that verdict, we exhaled. We swallowed the all-too-familiar lump in our throats that comes every time a Black person is shot and killed and the justice system – supported by a community of white people – does not care. Rittenhouse’s victims were white, but they were on the wrong side of the racial divide.
But here we are, not a full week later, waiting to see what this jury will do. In spite of a brilliant case argued by the prosecution, the attorneys for the three white men have played the race card unashamedly. They have gone so far as to claim that their clients have been intimidated by the presence of Black pastors sitting in the courtroom in support of Arbery’s family. (https://www.cnn.com/2021/11/11/us/ahmaud-arbery-trial-defense-attorney-black-pastors/index.html)
The message is clear: the attorneys for the white men who killed the unarmed Black man are the victims. It is a message that will resonate with a huge swath of the white community.
When we as Black people have yet another one of these cases floating around, the years of internalized trauma caused both by racialized violence and a lack of justice take their toll. The stress is almost unbearable, as is the pre-verdict anxiety. We pray- certainly we pray because that is all we have been able to do as we challenge the systemic injustice of this country which is a part of “who we are” in spite of people saying that the history of our racial rot and the stench from it is not who we are. We pray, but we wonder about the presence of God. We, like Gideon about whom we read in the Hebrew scriptures, wonder where God is and to the statement that some will offer that “God is good,” we lean toward asking God to clarify what God’s “goodness” looks like for Black people.
Meanwhile, we learn that for many whites, God is not about justice for all people, but is concerned about justice for people in power. God, and God’s son Jesus, are “strongmen,” and as such have little time for the whimpering of people against whom power wields its power. Many believe that “Jesus didn’t come to take sides. Jesus came to take over.” ( Jeff Sharlet. The Family) Therefore, their Jesus approved of the attempt to take down the government, and Jesus is in support of a justice system which protects the rights of the wealthy and powerful and does all he can to keep them there.
So it is against powers and principalities which do not care one iota about the injustice that we wrestle with as we wait for this verdict. Those who feast on their belief in their right to take down Black people and who do so with impunity because they know the chances of them being held accountable are slim to none are waiting for an acquittal so they can wave their Confederate flags honoring another white supremacist victory. They do not care that a Black mother is grieving, that a Black community is sitting on edge, and that Black children are understanding – again – that being Black in America makes one a hated and easy target.
So yes, on this day before Thanksgiving, we are holding vigil. We are muttering prayers and softly humming hymns that bring some relief from the stress of being Black in this country. According to Sharlet, the so-called Christians who lift up the name of Jesus do so as an acknowledgement of Jesus being one of the first “strongmen” in this country. They believe he was a capitalist and that he sought to push capitalism as the principle we ought all to follow. Their Jesus, or what Sharlet calls “the American Jesus,” is not concerned with the cries of people who have never known justice, fairness, or full rights as American citizens.
This Jesus is no more concerned about justice for Ahmaud Arbery than were the pilgrims who landed here in the 1600s and decided that it was their godly duty to take out Indigenous Americans, who were here long before white people stepped out of their ships.
We hold vigil, and we pray. It is what we have had to do – and have to do, still, in order to survive in a country that is content to use us but remains totally uninterested in treating us as human beings who desire justice like any white person.
A candid observation…