By Jelani Cobb, The New Yorker Magazine, May 9, 2020
The most basic conception of racial profiling holds that it is a form of institutionalized bias practiced by police departments in which the color of a person’s skin is considered a barometer of criminality. This idea is problematic enough on its face, but our experience in the eight years since Trayvon Martin’s death has complicated this issue greatly. Martin was killed by a civilian—a self-appointed neighborhood watchman—who had no legal authority but presumed that the seventeen-year-old Martin was a burglar, confronted him, and killed him in a gated community in Florida. Other cases, such as those of John Crawford, who was shot by police while examining a gun for sale in an Ohio Walmart, and Tamir Rice, a twelve-year-old who was shot by a Cleveland police officer while playing with a toy gun in a park, point to difficulties in neatly dividing the racial biases of the public from those of law enforcement. In both of those instances, police shot innocent black males after responding to a call from a civilian who had imagined them to be dangerous. These nuances are relevant because, once again, we are witness to an addition to a gruesome genre of black death.
On February 23rd, according to his mother, the twenty-five-year-old Ahmaud Arbery left his home, in Brunswick, Georgia, to go running. He entered a nearby subdivision called Satilla Shores. At some point, he came to the attention of two residents, Gregory and Travis McMichael, a father and son who also live in the community. The older McMichael reportedly told his son that he thought Arbery was the man suspected of breaking into nearby homes. The two men grabbed their firearms (a .357 Magnum revolver and a shotgun) and pursued Arbery, whom the father described as “hauling ass” down the street. They chased him in their pickup truck while a neighbor, William Bryan, followed in a separate vehicle, recording the chase on his phone.
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