Accountability is Good. Sustained Justice Is The Goal.

28 Nov

Wanda Cooper-Jones

I was at a checkout counter at the mall last week when I looked down at my phone to see the breaking news that Rittenhouse had been acquitted. I moaned, “Oh no!” aloud, and the young cashier gave me a look of compassion, perhaps thinking I just received word of a mishap with a family member.

“That kid that killed people in Wisconsin got off…” I said.

The cashier returned an “ohhh…” tinged with glum, as she wrapped my candles, a Chanukah gift, for my older daughter. I texted both of my daughters right afterward with the news. Leni, 21, texted back, “that’s disgusting.”

As I said in my previous post on the Wisconsin trial, my daughters and I weren’t surprised by the verdict. Still, I knew I needed to hold on to hope this week that the murderers of Ahmaud Arbery would be convicted. And while I had been obsessively checking my phone once the Rittenhouse jury went into deliberations, I wasn’t doing that as often with the McMichaels and Bryan trial decision. This time I got the news through a friend’s Instagram message while at the grocery store. The message said, “at least they convicted those rednecks today.”

Amen, I said to myself, as I placed my groceries on the conveyer. I texted my daughters the article sharing the guilty verdicts, and Leni’s reply this time: “as they should.”

I know this verdict is so important, and it is, finally, like my daughter said, as it should be. We know this nation’s scales of justice have tipped far, far too many times to the wrong side. Countless numbers of Black men, women and children, have been blamed and convicted for crimes they did not commit. We know the horrors of our history where white people played judge, jury and executioner, and that all it took was for a white woman to say a Black man, or boy, looked at her a certain way for him to be strung up on a tree the next day. And that white people by the thousands would come out to watch, even dress for the occasion, take photos, make postcards, take their own children to witness these lynchings, just as easily as they were going for a picnic in the park.

It is important that the nearly all white jury convicted the defendants in this Southern state trial, this 21st century lynching of Ahmaud Arbery. These three men hunted Ahmaud down, thinking simply because he was a Black man running down the street in “their neighborhood,” he must be up to no good, that he must be the person breaking into homes in the area. They acted on what they felt entitled to do–to make a citizen’s arrest, to stand their ground.

I think of author, therapist and somatic abolitionist, Resmaa Menakem’s anti-racism work that says we carry racial trauma in our bodies. In no way giving them any inkling of a pass, was it in the DNA of those three men to act out the Negro Act of 1740? The act, was essentially a slave catcher’s law, “passed by South Carolina’s colonial government, after the Stono Rebellion, an uprising of enslaved people in the state. This act barred freedom of assembly of African Americans. And more egregious, this act gave white men the power and authority to arrest, detain, hunt or kill Black folks whom they felt were a threat or danger.” (Charleston City Paper, Nov. 2021. see below)

But the thing is, this is not the McMichaels’ or Bryan’s land. Brunswick, Georgia, where Ahmaud was murdered, belongs to the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor. Ahmaud descended from the Gullah Geechee nation of enslaved people who were brought to North and South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida to work the rice, cotton, and indigo plantations there. Because they lived on coastal plantations isolated from the more populous mainland, the Gullah Geechee people retained a good deal of their cultural traditions, and created a Creole language of their own, Gullah, not spoken anywhere else in the world. (Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor. nps.gov. see below) Development and tourism has the dwindling number of descendants continuing to fight for their land, and the survival, and passing down of their culture. When Ahmaud was murdered, the Gullah Geechee nation lost one more member of their family.

Aside from being a beloved son, I learned, Ahmaud Arbery was a good friend to many, with a great sense of humor. Ahmaud was also an accomplished athlete, who after his high school football career finished, continued to inspire his coach and teammates for pushing himself, and his friends, to strive for more. In The Bitter Southerner article, written by Jim Barger, Jr. (see below), the author tells how neighbors used to love to watch Ahmaud pass by on his regular jogs, saying he always had a wave and a smile, and would often stop for a game of basketball if he saw neighborhood kids out playing. A close friend of Ahmaud’s, Akeem Baker shares how Ahmaud “had a pure heart and soul,” how “he held no hate in his heart,” and how, “his happiness came from others being happy.” Ahmaud’s former coach, Jason Vaughn, spoke of his endurance, and how running was a meditation for Ahmaud. For Coach Vaughn, the “I run with Maud” tagline that he coined, and which became a popular show of solidarity on social media, helps keep him going.

“I started saying ‘I run with Maud’ because I know I don’t have the endurance to run this race by myself. People thought I was saying I was running for Ahmaud, but that’s not it. Ahmaud was running with me. I say, ‘I run with Maud,’ because I’m tapping into his spirit and his endurance to help me outrun this anger, this injustice, and to finish this race; because we have a long way to go before our children are safe. They have murdered our kids before. Now, they have murdered Ahmaud.” He pauses, searching for the breath that escapes him. “And you know as well as I do that they will murder again.”

Yet, I don’t share the remembrances of Ahmaud from The Bitter Southerner article for us white folks to say, “it’s sad, he was a good, young Black man.” As if to say, there are only certain Black people’s lives that deserve us to fight for them. We must know how, as James Baldwin tells us in his writings, white people are unwilling to look in the mirror and acknowledge what we did, and do, in this country. Baldwin also says, rarely are white people able to see the humanity in Black people. And how fragile that view is. Sadly, Ahmaud’s mother, Wanda Cooper-Jones, said she had to endure having her son’s humanity taken away from him by the lawyers representing her son’s murderers. Post verdict, she is thankful for what she says is “justice for Ahmaud.” In subsequent interviews, Cooper-Jones noted how after Ahmaud’s murder, Georgia did repeal its citizen’s arrest law, and instituted a hate crime law, and she is glad that her son’s name now will be remembered for that change.

Wanda Cooper-Jones called the trial outcome a victory. It is one, and we have to keep working to sustain real justice, and make sure the tide which turned back with the Rittenhouse verdict turns once again, back in the right direction going forward. It will take all of us to do this. Holding Ahmaud Arbery in our memory, I am asking fellow white folks to not rest on our relief at the outcome of this one trial. Like Coach Vaughn, we must endure. We must know we cannot do the work alone. We must raise our children to see the humanity each one of us possesses, even when, or especially when, our neighbor does not look like we do. We must make this run, for the lives of all of our children, our meditation.

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Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor Site

https://www.nps.gov/places/gullah-geechee-cultural-heritage-corridor.htm

Arbery killers found guilty, Charleston-area justice leaders react, Charleston City Paper, by Herb Frazier, November 24, 2021, quote by historian and activist, Michael Allen

https://charlestoncitypaper.com/arbery-killers-found-guilty-charleston-area-justice-leaders-react/

Ahmaud Arbery Holds Us Accountable, The Bitter Southerner, by Jim Barger, Jr. May 14, 2020

https://bittersoutherner.com/2020/ahmaud-arbery-holds-us-accountable?fbclid=IwAR1CViyQcAOTCvuZ8dvZUWqoF19VJDd8GHQfAYdd5ffCBCrqjKStJ-HEpcM

2 Responses to “Accountability is Good. Sustained Justice Is The Goal.”

  1. Richard Alan Scott November 28, 2021 at 7:32 pm #

    I’m glad the cashier didn’t respond in the negative as a supporter of Rittenhouse. They are everywhere, especially up here in Burrillville. I keep my mouth shut, they are all violent and have pickup trucks and guns, and these times are frightening.

    • Wendy Jane November 29, 2021 at 12:48 pm #

      Hi Dick,

      Thank you for your reflection. And yes, sometimes, especially when we know the company we are in, it’s best to say nothing.

      Thanks again for taking the time to read and give feedback.

      Best wishes,
      Wendy

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