Like many of you, earlier in the week, I heard about another seemingly racially motivated attack on a young man in Georgia. And to my shame, I did not investigate it because I was caught in my own world, doing what I thought was important. Not long after hearing about this, I started seeing the video being posted on various social media platforms, and I felt that maybe I needed to watch it. So I did. It shook me to my core.
Ahmaud Arbery was simply jogging, and since he “matched a description” of someone in connection to some alleged neighborhood burglaries was targeted by two white men who chased him down, threatened him, and eventually, in an act of vigilantism, shot and killed him.
Here is where it gets particularly horrifying. This event did not just happen. It did not happen this week or even this month. Ahmaud Arbery was killed on February 23. It took over two months for there to be any major pushback on this issue. It was only after the video of this tragedy coming out that this shooting went viral. And this is a problem.
A casual reviewing of the known facts about this case shows there was a fundamental breakdown in the justice system. The shooters, father and son, Gregory and Travis McMichael, had law enforcement connections and direct ties to the District Attorney’s office. At least two district attorneys recused themselves from the case, and eventually, no charges were filed because it seemed as if the McMichaels, according to one of the DAs had an intent to “stop and hold this criminal suspect until law enforcement” arrived, something that “is perfectly legal” under Georgia law. Latest information makes it seem that police wanted to arrest the men, but the DA blocked them..
But again, the video.
When the video came out, everything, and I mean everything, about this narrative, changed. And while I do not know everything about how the video came out, but it seems as if a cursory investigation would have revealed the video’s existence and would have made clear that this tragedy was something that should have been investigated. But, like far too many cases, nothing was done. After the public outcry from the video, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation took over arrested both McMichaels charging them with murder and aggravated assault. Maybe, just maybe, there will some sense of justice done. But what do we do now? As Christians, how do we respond?
First, why did it take a video for us to care? It is a shame that so many people like myself only had an outcry until after the video of this young man’s murder went viral. I ignored the news of this incident until I actually saw the video and then was heartbroken because of it. Whether there was or wasn’t a video, Ahmaud Arbery was murdered; the video did not change that. However, the video caused me to take time to see it as it was, which caused me to care. How many times do we hear and ignore cases similar to this without a video? This must change.
Second, we must walk side by side with people who are victims of injustice. I get so tired of hearing people talk down to the concept of social justice as if it means you are some heretical person who is a secret Marxist hell-bent on destroying America and the Church. This man deserves justice, and we must care about Ahmaud Arbery receiving it. There are many, too many, nameless people, who are also victims of racial injustice, and we must care about them. God is a God of justice. Racism is sin, and an evil and completely ignores the theological principle that everyone is created in the image of God. Everyone has an inherent value, dignity, and worth, and this must move us to invest and care about injustice.
Third, we must get out of our own bubble. The older I get, and the more meaningful relationships with African Americans I am blessed with, the more I come to see things that I never saw when I was younger. It is only because I have meaningful relationships with other African Americans that I am now seeing what they actually have to deal with. This is helping me understand the need for people to walk with them when they experience things like this. Let us all, in God’s grace, seek to understand members of our community to lovingly serve them as they deal with injustice. If we stay in our bubble, we will never be bold enough to speak out against injustice, but when we get out of our bubble, we will realize that issues of injustice are issues that we need to care about.
As long as we fail to walk alongside our African American brothers and sisters as they deal with situations like this we will never truly be able to understand the level of injustice that they struggle with. As we learn to walk alongside them, we must then learn to be a voice with them. What happened to Ahmaud Arbery was horrific and for two solid months. Some of us didn’t know, others ignored it, some scrolled right on by.
But again, that video. Let us learn to listen before seeing something horrific because some people have been seeing this up-close and personal for years. We hear you. Forgive us for not hearing sooner.
Adam, a second-generation pastor, is the pastor of First Baptist Church, Leakesville, MS. He is a doctoral candidate at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary writing his dissertation on a biblical assessment of patriotism. He can follow him on twitter, @pastor_adam.