Reflections on Ahmaud Arbery and the importance of #BlackLivesMatter: The perspective of one black woman

Painting of Ahmaud Arbery by artist Nikkolas Smith

On a Sunday afternoon in February, Ahmaud Arbery went on a run in his local neighbourhood – something he had done many times before. However, this was to be his last run. He was fatally shot, after being pursued by, father and son, Gregory and Travis McMichael. They claimed to have thought that Arbery was a burglar and believed he was armed. Ahmaud Arbery was unarmed. He was also black. 

Now this last point speaks to the value his murderers placed on his life – none whatsoever. They had stereotyped him and assumed he was a burglar, when he was simply a black man going for his regular exercise. However, this goes beyond the scope of stereotypes but rather speaks to the systemic and institutional racism that black people in America and other parts of the Western world are subjected to every day.

Ahmaud’s case is particularly striking because he was killed on camera in February, but no arrests were made for his unjustifiable murder until May; once the video had surfaced and there was overwhelming public outcry. How can such a thing happen? How can a man’s life be taken and there is no urgency from the powers-that-be to investigate and seek justice for this man or his family?

The terrible miscarriage of justice is sadly not uncommon when it comes to black lives in America. Take, for example, the shooting of teenager Trayvon Martin in 2012. His murder was unjust, but his shooter (George Zimmerman – the neighbourhood watchman at the time) was acquitted, despite the overwhelming evidence suggesting he was responsible. It’s no surprise that many black people lose faith in the justice system. When your murderer can be acquitted or your life is not deemed valuable enough to warrant investigation into the circumstances around your death until a video is made public, it’s difficult to not feel demoralised.

When the news surrounding Ahmaud’s murder broke out, I couldn’t watch the video. I was planning on never watching it to be honest, because it is truly nauseating. Going out and carrying about your day like you always do, not knowing if it’ll be your last, is a horrible feeling that too many black Americans know all too well.

It is so baffling that, with every new case of violence against black people, the rules change slightly, and the restrictions increase. More black mothers and fathers will have to tell their children, “don’t wear your hood up at night” or “don’t go into that neighbourhood”. All these little nuggets of wisdom are given to black children at an early age to preserve and protect their life but restrict their freedom in the long run. It is almost ironic.

I dare not call Ahmaud’s murder senseless because it was anything but. It is so painfully calculated that even comprehending it is a task in itself. I find myself unable to make sense of it as I am writing.

If there is one thing that we can all take away, it is that systemic racism kills. So, when Amy Cooper was walking her dog where she shouldn’t be and phoned the police, specifying that an African-American man was threatening her and her dog (which was untrue), it is an act of violence. It is weaponising the racism within our society, to potentially uproot an innocent person’s life.

I ask that non-black people think about how their actions impact black lives. Before you share that video detailing another case of brutality against black people, think about how that will affect the black people around you. Of course, we should raise awareness, but what actions are you taking to make the spaces around you safe for black people?How are you educating yourself, so that you don’t contribute to the problem? How are you helping the #BlackLivesMatter movement?

Before you share that video detailing another case of brutality against black people, think about how that will affect the black people around you

As a black woman in the UK, it’s less likely I will have to deal with racism in the form of murder. Do not be deceived into thinking the problem doesn’t exist here in the UK. I have and will probably continue to experience racism in varying forms because of how ingrained it is in society. Nevertheless, the death of Ahmaud and many others like him is striking to me because the #BlackLivesMatter movement has been around for a long time but every day it seems like the struggle gets increasingly difficult. Most of my feelings, however, are summed up in this tweet by @quintabrunson:

“Being black is having a good day and then seeing another black person was killed for no reason. Then you have to think about /talk about that all day. Or don’t and numb yourself. It is a constant emotional war.”

Leave a Comment