On a rainy afternoon in July 2009, the police department in Long Branch, New Jersey, received a call from a concerned citizen who said he saw a weird-looking guy, wearing a hoodie, walking through the quiet neighborhood in the rain. The strange man suddenly crossed the street and started peering into the windows of a house that was for sale.
Two young police officers came to the scene and intercepted the man who was soaking wet and didn’t have any identification on him. He told them his name was Bob Dylan. He explained to them that his tour bus was parked nearby and he just decided to take a walk in the rain.
The young cops assumed he was an escaped patient from a nearby mental hospital, but decided to check out his story. They put him in the back of their cruiser and drove to the place he said his bus was parked. It was indeed the “Bob Dylan,” as his assistants quickly confirmed.
Ahmaud Arbery was not so lucky. He decided to go jogging in the early afternoon of February 23, 2020, through the streets of Brunswick, Georgia. It was a sunny afternoon, perfect for a run. Arbery saw a home under construction and went into it, similar to what Bob Dylan had done. Three minutes later he came out and continued jogging.
A neighbor, Gregory McMichael, saw Arbery pass by his house. He grabbed a handgun, while his son grabbed a shotgun, and they both got into their truck and started chasing Arbery. They would say later that there had been several recent break-ins in the neighborhood and thought Arbery looked suspicious.
In a scene caught on video, the two men tried to cut off Arbery in their truck two times, unsuccessfully. The third time they caught up to him. The younger McMichael got out of the truck and confronted Arbery at close range with his shotgun, shouting, “Stop!” while his father looked on from the truck bed. When Travis McMichael confronted him, Arbery grabbed McMichael’s shotgun.
After a short scuffle, Arbery was shot three times and tried to run away but collapsed on the street a few seconds later and died from injuries sustained during the shooting.
When police arrived, the McMichaels explained to the cops that Arbery had attacked them and they were sent home. Arbery didn’t steal anything from the house under construction, he was not armed, and he didn’t have any drugs in his body, his autopsy would later confirm.
And there had not been any burglaries in the neighborhood during the seven weeks previous to the day he died. The McMichaels were not arrested until 71 days later when a video of the shooting was leaked to the press, producing national outrage. Authorities had been in possession of the video since the day Ahmaud Arbery died.
We will find out more details about what happened in the weeks to come but from what we know now it would be hard not to think that Ahmaud Arbery was hunted down and assassinated, in cold blood and broad daylight, because he was a young black man jogging in a neighborhood he didn’t live in. That was his crime — being a young black man jogging in a neighborhood he didn’t live in.
It would be hard to imagine how authorities saw the same video we have seen and concluded that Ahmaud Arbery, unarmed and alone, was the “aggressor” in the confrontation with the two armed persecutors. It seems Ahmaud Arbery was not only judged by the color of his skin — but he was also hunted down and killed because of the color of his skin. Since Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous speech, America has come a long way in the fight against discrimination and racism, but the nightmares like the one that resulted in the death of Ahmaud Arbery still happen.
We shouldn’t stop denouncing and fighting the hatred that allows these nightmares to repeat themselves in our society.