The case of Ahmaud Arbery has been making headlines the past few days and there have been a myriad of reactions to it. For those of you who are unaware, in February of this year, 25-year-old Ahmaud Arbery was running outside in his neighborhood when he was followed by two white men and shot and killed while a third white man filmed it all. It’s made headlines recently because it was unclear whether the men in question would be charged with murder. Now it’s been revealed that Arbery not only had a criminal record, but may have actually been robbing a house in the area before his death. This has led to many people claiming that this, in a sense, “justifies” the killing. One person in particular, conservative activist Candace Owens, has caught my attention. On her twitter feed, she had this to say…
Here are some of the arguments in here that I want to break down.
- Black people are overreacting
Let’s assume the above statistics are true. The argument goes that therefore, when a white person kills a black person, black people shouldn’t overreact because we’re more dangerous to ourselves than white people are to us. However, this argument would only hold true if all of America lived by that logic. But we don’t. For example…
Fact: according to the FBI archives, “between 1980 and 2000, the FBI recorded 335 incidents or suspected incidents of terrorism in this country. Of these, 247 were attributed to domestic terrorists, while 88 were determined to be international in nature.”
In other words, for 20 years, over 70% of terrorist attacks in the U.S. were committed by Americans. But after 9/11, Americans felt more afraid of Muslims than they did of each other. One attack happened and we became terrified of all Muslims. Granted, 9/11 cost us thousands of lives and I am in no way belittling that loss. We had a right to react. We had a right to be scared. Maybe we even had a right to go to war. And that’s the point. If America as a nation is allowed to ignore domestic terrorism and react to international terrorism, why are blacks not allowed to do the same when it comes to white-on-black violence?
2. Arbery did the crime so he deserved to die
In her defense, Candace Owens doesn’t explicitly say that Arbery “deserved to die” and actually says the opposite. But her and others emphasize that his crime in a way negates the black community’s reaction to it.
There are several reasons this argument isn’t valid either.
One, the crime doesn’t fit the punishment. Even if Arbery had stolen a Rolex worth $5k, that Rolex could be given back. Arbery’s mother can’t get him back. Something was temporarily taken away so Arbery was permanently taken away.
Two, this argument of killing criminals doesn’t come up outside of criminals of color. There weren’t petitions to give the death penalty to Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey or Jeffrey Epstein for their crimes. Even more telling, when 16-year old Cyntoia Brown killed her sexual abuser, she was sentenced to life in prison–for killing a criminal.
When we argue that Arbery’s crime makes his death less tragic or more justifiable, it’s the same logic used when a woman gets raped and she’s asked, “What were you wearing?” Answer: it doesn’t make a difference.
At the end of the day, even if Arbery were a serial killer, the point is that he’s another black man in a line of other black men–many of whom were completely innocent–who have been killed by white men. His death is important because he’s not the only one. If this were an isolated incident, the above arguments would hold water and the black community could have less reason to protest. But it isn’t. And that’s why black people are reacting the way we are.
Word to the Black Community
All this being said, do I believe Candace Owens makes a good point that black people should not jump on the bandwagon and cry racist witch hunt every time a black person gets killed. We shouldn’t take our victim narrative to the extreme of blindly assuming the victim is an innocent saint. This is dangerous because one, we set ourselves up for failure by believing the only reason this is so tragic is that the person was innocent. So if contradicting information comes out, our reason for protesting is deflated. But in reality, whether the victim is a criminal or not, the fact of the matter is that we have regular citizens killing citizens of color. That needs to be addressed.
Word to the Church
I believe that this shooting in particular will reveal more about our Christianity than any other shooting. Because up to this point, the narrative has been, “He/she was an innocent black person who was gunned down.” so we’ve stood up because it was the right thing to do. But it hasn’t really been an explicitly Christian thing to do because anyone with a conscience can do that. But now that the narrative has switched to “He was a criminal who was gunned down.” if we stand up anyway, this is explicitly Christian. Because Jesus Himself said that even pagans stand up for the innocent(Matt. 5:46-48), but He stands up for the criminals. At the end of the day, we’re all Ahmaud Arbery because we’ve all committed crimes against God and when He came after us with His shotgun in hand, Jesus stepped in and took the bullet for us. So because He gave us grace, we give grace to others. Now more than ever, Christians can stand up and declare with Candace Owens herself: two things can be true at the same time–he was “not just a jogger”, but he didn’t deserve to die.
At the end of the day, one group has been belittling his crime while the other has been belittling his life. I believe that as Christians, we should be acknowledging the crime while elevating the life. Because that’s what Christ did for us.