Ahmed Arbury Was A Victim of a Long History of White Violence Dating Back To Slavery

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Two white men with beards in orange jumpsuits in jail.
Travis McMichael, Greg McMichael were indicted for the murder of Ahmed Arbury.

Some of the whites are ignorant enough to tell us, that we ought to be submissive to them, that they may keep their feet on our throats.”

David Walker, 1829.

Whites attack blacks, claiming self-defense when blacks resist.

In addition to police killings—for minor violations—of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Manual Ellis in Tacoma, and many others, the Ahmaud Arbery killing in Georgia presents still more evidence of slavery’s significant remnants in America.

The Arbery killing involves an alleged attempt by patrolling whites to  “arrest” an African-American jogging in a white neighborhood.

Reportedly, Mr. Arbery was so defiant as to resist an attack without evidence of wrongdoing, taking such “hostile” action as dodging weaponry and two pick-up trucks, and diving into a ditch.

This is old stuff in the behavior of American whites toward African-Americans. It has a sordid history dating back to slavery.

Slaves were required to submit to their masters regardless of the circumstances, even if cruel. Not only slaves, but in some states, all blacks were required by law to submit to all whites without resistance.

Philadelphia Judge George Stroud stated in his 1856 legal treatise:

Strict subordination must be exacted from the slave, or bloodshed and murders will unavoidably ensue. The laws of the slave-holding states demand … a much larger concession of power to the master …: they demand that the life of the slave shall be in the master’s keeping; that the slave, having the physical ability to avoid the infliction of a barbarous and vindictive punishment by his master, shall not be permitted to do so. They go, indeed, even beyond this: they place the slave under the like restriction in relation to every white person, without discrimination as to character, and with but little consideration as to motives. …

Judge Stroud provided examples of black punishment for resistance:

In Maryland, act of 1723, …  a justice of the peace … may direct the offender’s ears to be cropped—and this, though he be a free black. [In Kentucky,] as in Maryland, free coloured persons are included:—“If any negro, mulatto or Indian, bond or free, shall, at any time, lift his or her hand in opposition to any person not being a negro, mulatto or Indian, he or she so offending shall for every such offence… receive thirty lashes on his or her bare back, well laid on, by order of such justice.”

He cited Virginia law providing up to 39 “stripes” for a “negro” “if he use[s] provoking language or menacing gestures to a white person.”

Abolitionist William Goodell, in his 1853 book about slavery, quoted a Georgia statute:

If any slave shall presume to strike any white person, such slave … shall, for the first offense, suffer such punishment as the said Justice or Justices shall, in his or their discretion, think fit, not extending to life or limb; and for the second offence, suffer death.

He cited Maryland law relating to slain slaves, protecting “any … person, who shall endeavor to apprehend such slave or slaves, &c, such … person so killing such slave … making resistance, shall be … indemnified from any prosecution[.]”

Thomas R.R. Cobb, a slave owner and slavery advocate, highly-respected Georgia lawyer, and drafter of the Confederate Constitution, justified laws sustaining police and white citizen patrol violence in his often cited 1859 legal treatise. He effectively acknowledged deep white fear of blacks:

If the slave feels that he is solely under the power and control of his immediate master, he will soon become insolent and ungovernable to all others. If the white man had, then, no right by law to control, the result would be, the excitement of angry passions, broils, and bloodshed. Hence have arisen, in the States, the various police and patrol regulations, giving to white persons other than the master, under certain circumstances, the right of controlling, and, in some cases, correcting slaves.

Thus, the Arbery case reflects long-standing attitudes and behaviors of American whites toward African-Americans. Those attitudes date back hundreds of years. They continued after the end of slavery. They continued after the enactment of the 1960s Civil Rights Laws. At that time, we believed matters would be fully-corrected. We were wrong. Even after the Supreme Court’s decision in Brown v. Board of Education ending official school segregation and after the end of segregation in public accommodations (restaurants, transportation, hotels, theaters, and the like), racism continues today.

America is incapable of resolving its racial issues. This scenario will be repeated, and repeated again. Nothing will overcome America’s persistent racism.

Why do I think that will be so? I do think that some states and local jurisdictions will
re-consider their policing policies. Others will not.

The key, however, is educational inequality.

From the time that African-Americans were taken off the slave ships through more than 250 years of slavery, through the period of explicit school segregation, through the period after Brown v. Board of Education, to the present, African-Americans have never—never—had anything approaching equal access to education.

The most significant issue—continued outrageous discrimination in schools—lies at the core of America’s severe inequality in employment, income, wealth, housing, health, and retirement. There is a complete unwillingness—including by many who proudly flaunt their purported sympathies for African-Americans and Black Lives Matter—to do what is necessary to remedy the yawning educational gap.

These people continue stubbornly to resist necessary structural changes in school governance and teacher incentive pay for excellent teachers and for teachers who work in disadvantaged schools. They refuse even to consider creation of a strongly competitive educational atmosphere through aggressive promotion of charter schools and of vouchers giving African-American families and children access to the same private school educations as white children receive. (Thank you, Supreme Court for allowing more use of vouchers!!) They choose to blame African-American families, parents who themselves were denied adequate educations.

Others continue to resist equitable allocation of school funding resources that now heavily favors white children.

This is where “reparations” can be best applied. While it will not be inexpensive, if America truly wishes to remedy racism (which it does not), this is how schools can be funded productively. Motivated parents should be given a chance to receive additional education to make up as much as possible for past discrimination. Then, they will be better equipped to help their children.

Without such drastic changes, America’s public schools simply are unable, and unwilling, to compete as is necessary in order to bring educational standards to the level where they should be. As a result of the current inertia among politicians of all stripes, and nonresponsive public schools, day after day, bit by bit, the lives and futures of millions of African-American children are being destroyed. It happened to their parents, grandparents and great grandparents and others before them. Now, it is happening to today’s children.

It is not in the self-interest of politicians—regardless of their political philosophy—to do what is needed.

Meanwhile, America’s slavery chickens are coming home to roost.

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R.W. Doty is an author who has been researching and writing a book about slavery for the past year, tentatively titled Slave Heroes Fighting America’s Reign of Terror: The Encyclopedia of American Slavery.

R.W. Doty is an author who has been researching and writing a book about slavery for the past year, tentatively titled Slave Heroes Fighting America’s Reign of Terror: The Encyclopedia of American Slavery.

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