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We almost didn’t hear about Ahmaud Arbery. These stories must not go untold.



This unnerving fear crept into my mind amid news of the February killing of Ahmaud Arbery, who was chased in a pickup truck, confronted and killed by two men who lived in his neighborhood in Brunswick, Ga., where his family says he regularly jogged.

The men, a father and son, say Arbery, in his white T-shirt matched the description of a suspect who was committing break-ins in the neighborhood, and that they intended to detain him.

The son, 34-year-old Travis McMichael, killed Arbery with his shotgun after a brief struggle captured in shaky and horrific cellphone footage. The father, 64-year-old Gregory McMichael, a former police officer, stood in the bed of the truck armed with a .357 Magnum.

Arbery and the men now charged with killing him lived a few short miles apart, but think about the different versions of America they experienced.

One lived in a version of America where his existence was perceived as criminal, and an activity as routine as jogging through a neighborhood proved fatal.

The other men lived in an America where they had enough agency to make them feel empowered to grab a gun and chase after a stranger who seemed suspicious to them but whom they had not seen do anything wrong.

Arbery would have turned 26 years old Friday. Instead, his name is added to a long and heart-wrenching roster of unarmed black people and black children whose existence was perceived as criminal or threatening and who were killed for it.

On social media, and in the conversations in churches and living rooms and barbershops that we have about life and justice, we often remind ourselves to say their names.

What troubles me about the latest name, about the tragic and unjust killing of Ahmaud Arbery, is that, like many of the others, we almost never knew it.

It took more than two months from Arbery’s killing in late February to enter our national consciousness.

Because of the covid-19 crisis, gone were the attention of the news media, the public protests, the demonstrations, the news conferences that shed light on tragic incidents such as Arbery’s shooting that have grown common.

We are in a crisis of health. We are in a crisis of economics. But we cannot let these crises mask the other tragedies that existed in our communities before covid-19. Like a crisis of justice.

Over the past two months, prosecutors and police departments declined to press charges in the Arbery killing. Two prosecutors recused themselves. News cycles were focused elsewhere.

It took a groundswell of persistent online activism and organizing, an exposé in the New York Times and the release of that horrific cellphone footage to bring us where we are today.

Arbery’s death is a reminder we didn’t need of our unjust world. Of the history of racism, violence, trauma that too many black men carry with us on our morning jogs.

As we pursue truth and justice for Ahmaud Arbery and his family, we have a responsibility to ask ourselves where else we might find a crisis of truth.

How many stories have gone untold? How many injustices have withered in the darkness? How much trauma has gone unacknowledged? Our national insistence and understanding of our deep inequities need to be acted on, and should not have to be televised.

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