In February a man named Ahmaud Arbery was shot while out running in a Georgia neighborhood. News coverage of the apparent murder lists several alibis on the part of those who shot Arbery. Video of the incident exists, and it has the creepy nature of a gaming scenario in which the players hunt down and kill their prey.
First hand experience
Having been a runner for more than forty years, and a cyclist the twenty or so, I have written about encounters with people who don’t like what we do, and let us know. I’ve personally been chased by people who threw a knife at me, harassed off the road by a Corvette driver angry about what he perceived as a traffic infraction and struck by objects thrown out the window of vehicles. And that doesn’t count the many times my senses have been jolted by people hollering out the window, honking their horns or nearly killed by someone texting while driving.
The race factor
But the shooting of Ahmaud Arbery carries an entirely different layer of meaning. The shooting was quite likely racially motivated. The video of the pursuit of Arbery as he’s running through a quiet neighborhood captures the vindictive nature of their motivations. As such, it also symbolizes thousands of other such pursuits through neighborhoods just like this for whatever perceived slights the pursuers project upon their victims. Their “success” resulted in torture, lynchings and bombings. This is American history. This is what our country has always been about. And nothing’s changed.
I’m personally sick of hearing that the United States is the “greatest nation in the world.” It isn’t. Not when events like this have taken place for centuries now and are still occurring to this day. Even the so-called Greatest Generation did little to fix the problem of racism. People of color returning home from the war returned to a nation still ruled by Jim Crow laws. We’d defeated Hitler but done little to fix the corrupt brand of racism this country still abided through the 1950s.
The 1960s set out to cure all that, yet President Richard Nixon’s response was to arm local law enforcement with military surplus. The cities were the flashpoint but the suburbs were the perceived battleground. I once worked with a fear-driven man whose stock of military-grade weapons were kept in his house because, he told us, “I want to be ready if the n****** come up my driveway.”
So accept it or not, this is the America in which we live. There are also armed protesters storming state capitols without penalty for what amounts to terrorism in public places. This is the America in which we live.
And this is the America in which so many people die. More people have been killed by gun violence of one kind or another than all the soldiers that have died in wars on foreign soil. This is the America in which we live. And even when racist people in this country display hate and commit acts of violence, the President calls them “good people” who are simply “angry” and therefore justified in their motives and threats.
So this is no longer a passive game of selfishly motivated hide and seek. When the President says that it’s okay to terrorize a state capitol and its legislature by carrying an arsenal of weapons in plain sight, then tells the governor to negotiate and “cut a deal” we’re officially living in a fascist culture.
The sound of gunfire
I sometimes ride past a gun range out where I used to live in Elburn, Illinois. The sound of those weapons plugging away at targets is a familiar sound out that way. Sport shooters love to play with their weapons.
I just find it ironic that the entrance to the gun range passes right by the entrance to a local church. It makes me wonder if any of the people attending that church ever stop to think about the reasons why guns were invented. They were developed for one reason: killing. Taking life. In military or in criminal actions, that is their primary purpose and reason for existence.
So much for the theology of Thou Shalt Not Kill. Nothing strange about having a church next to a gun range? Not strange at all.
Gun advocates love to dance around that fact by stating that the predominance of gun owners are “law-abiding.” And yet the sound of those weapons being fired in the video of Ahmaud Arbery is beyond disturbing. That was no gun range. That was a public street where an innocent man went out of a run and wound up dead.
Were the men who killed him “law-abiding” gun owners?
A report on the killing shared this claim: “According to an incident report filed by Glynn County police, Arbery was shot Feb. 23 after two men spotted him running in their neighborhood and armed themselves with guns before getting in a truck to pursue him. Gregory McMichael told police that he and his adult son thought the young man matched someone caught on a security camera committing a recent break-in in the neighborhood.”
In other words, those two men took the law into their own hands. Their version of the law was to track down and kill a person they suspected of burglary.
That’s the paradigm we’re supposed to accept as an indication that the United States is the “greatest country in the world?” That people owning guns are the ones who get to decide who should live or die?
That’s not freedom. That’s terrorism. That’s not liberty. That’s vigilante insanity.
Policies of brutality
But America has allowed these brutal policies to continue because they benefit those selfish enough to dismiss gun violence as a necessary byproduct of their personal rights.
Even the police are outgunned in a nation where guns now outnumber the people that live here. All because well-heeled yet fearful politicians and non-governmental organizations banded together to fix in place a dog-whistle interpretation of the Second Amendment that suits their purposes of profit and political control. In many respects, this ‘tradition’ is a theft of freedom that causes the loss of human life, and without seeming remorse.
Things might be changing simply because the lie of ‘guns are freedom’ is no longer sustainable. Word has it the National Rifle Association is in the process of falling apart. Their director Wayne LaPierre has been accused of misusing funds and there are hints that the organization has taken Russian money and embraced foreign influence in United States policies and elections. That’s about as un-American as you can get.
Yet much of the damage is done. The NRA’s prized interpretation of the Second Amendment has produced a nation that embraces lawlessness and endless grades of vigilante terrorism. These range from supposedly innocent Concealed Carry laws to Stand Your Ground codes of conduct that effectively guarantee protection to those who gun down others out of fear. Those men hunting down Arbery in Georgia were simply extrapolating the worldview that their suspicions grant them authority.
The NRA even defends the the right to conduct mass shootings and commit individual killings because “the right to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.” After every mass shooting, the spokespeople trot out the apologetic that “It’s too soon…” to talk about gun control.
Even our police forces struggle to know their true role in using weapons when so many people are so heavily armed. So much for the “well-regulated militia” crucial to the “security of a free state.” We no longer have that under control. And some police, fearing for their own lives or fueled by some hatred of their own are too often taking matter into their own hands in an ironic version of the famous defense of gun rights phrase “Guns don’t kill people. People kill people.”
Perhaps we’re a country too long involved with romanticizing cowboys with guns as heroes. Our movies repeat the theme. Our TV shows seem incomplete without a pair of beautiful-looking investigators or detectives stalking through dark hallways with handguns held ahead, spinning and twisting a barely varied plot of shooting the supposed “bad guys” lurking around every corner. The psychology of it all is absurd, and the supposed heroes seldom seem to die, and their weapons never run out of ammo. That is the ultimate American fantasy.
Triggered and addicted
Gun zealots are triggered by any language that questions those rights. But the sound of those weapons aimed and discharged at an innocent man running through a quiet neighborhood proves that America is a nation where part of the population thinks guns equal freedom, but that freedom includes the right to kill at will. For some people, that claim to rights is an addiction they refuse to quit.
It may not be possible to Make America Great Again because we never got it right in the first place. You can’t run from guns in America. That’s the sad reality of where our supposed freedom exists these days.