We’ve Been Here Before

There’s a construction site a block over from my apartment. It’s a full gutting of one of those beautiful Chicago brownstones. You can see straight through; everything but the stairs has been torn seam from seam.

I know this because I stopped to look a few weeks ago. I don’t think it was on one of my quarantine jogs, but it might have been. It was definitely since the weather started to get nicer. I remember thinking how fragile the whole house looked, like you could knock it over with a toothpick. 

Ahmaud Arbery was out for a jog. He apparently stopped at a construction site in the neighborhood too. Video shows a man who may be him entering the site. He looked around. 

Ahmaud Arbery was three years younger than me. I have to use the past tense because Ahmaud Arbery is dead. He was shot to death by Gregory and Travis McMichael, a father and son pair who were recently arrested in the killing. 

This is the part where I mention that I’m white, and Ahmaud Arbery was black, and that—in America, in 2020—is still enough to make the difference between life and death. But you already knew I was white. Not just because of the tone of this newsletter overall, but because you’ve read this piece before. 

You read it after Trayvon Martin was stalked and killed. You read it after Eric Garner died pleading for his life. You read it after Michael Brown was shot to death by a cop who claimed the child looked like a demon. You read it after Tamir Rice, age 12, was killed for playing in the park. You read it after Sandra Bland was hauled off to her death. You read it after Laquan McDonald was shot 16 times, many in the back, 15 minutes from my home. 

There’s a familiar rhythm now to these ungodly slayings. The initial outrage on social media, the chorus of activists and celebrities calling for an investigation at the very least. The authorities making some sort of gesture of goodwill—empaneling a grand jury, signing an arrest warrant, calling in a special prosecutor. Then the backlash, usually from the conservative media echo chamber, explaining what actions are newly capital offenses. 

Then come these columns. Fervent, outraged declarations from white people about these deadly double standards. We white people feel that these things must be said, that silence is complicity. And there’s undeniably some truth to that. 

But it’s what comes next that just destroys me. Trayvon Martin’s killer, acquitted by a jury given stand your ground reminders in their deliberation instructions. Eric Garner’s killer, fired but walking free while the primary witness to the killing is locked up. Laquan McDonald’s killer, given a prison sentence 16 times lower than the sentencing guidelines allowed for. Michael Brown’s killer, free to call the dead kid names to the media. 

So we’ll hope that this time, there will be true accountability. That the justice system will finally act as if all lives matter. But those of us who’ve read these columns before won’t be holding our breaths.

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