Nothing Funny Here
I wanted to write another column to make people smile.
But I couldn’t stop thinking about Ahmaud Arbery, 25, the African American man who was shot dead on a Sunday afternoon in February while jogging through a white Georgia neighborhood.
Two white men, a father and son, gunned down Arbery, who was unarmed. It took authorities four months before the two accused killers were charged last week. It was nothing less than a lynching.
From news reports, Gregory McMichael, 64, saw Arbery jogging through the neighborhood where the McMichaels lived. He called his son, Travis, 34. They grabbed a .357 magnum revolver and a shotgun, jumped into a truck and began following Arbery.
The McMichaels caught up with Arbery and called him to stop. There was a struggle and the shotgun was fired twice, killing Arbery. Police arrived in the neighborhood of ranch houses and moss-draped oaks but let the McMichaels go without charging them. After intense publicity and public pressure, the McMichaels were finally charged.
In 1964, Bob Dylan wrote “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carrol.” It was a song about Hattie Carrol, a 51-year-old black southern maid who was beaten to death on Feb. 8, 1963, by 21-year-old Maryland tobacco farmer, William Zanzinger, at a Baltimore hotel society gathering. Her crime was that she was not quick enough in bringing Zanzinger a drink.
Carrol was beaten with a pearl-handled cane; Arbery died of shotgun blast. The facts differed but the stories were otherwise the same. In each case, a black person violated the white racist rules.
The real William Zantzinger (not Zanzinger as Dylan wrote) initially was charged with disorderly conduct and released on $600 bail. The next day, Carroll died and Zantzinger was charged with murder. The charge was later reduced to manslaughter and Zantzinger was sentenced to six months in jail.
Throughout the song, until the last verse, Dylan sings:
“But you who philosophize disgrace and criticize all fears
Take the rag away from your face
Now ain’t the time for your tears.”
In the last stanza, Dylan reports that Zanzinger received only a six-month sentence and he sings, “Oh, but you who philosophize disgrace and criticize all fears/ Bury the rag deep in your face/For now’s the time for your tears.”
Like Zantzinger, the McMichaels were accepted members of their community. Like Zantzinger, the McMichaels lived in a climate where racism was not only accepted; it was promoted.
In the shooting of Arbry, there was some initial handwringing about the incident but there was no uproar from the community or from law enforcement, who all had a role in the killing.
After the arrests, many applauded the authorities and said it was proof that justice can and will be done. But justice will not come when the McMichaels are made to pay for the crime. It will come only when the white community no longer sees its birthright to persecute blacks and when people of color can jog freely anywhere and not fear for their lives.
Racism remains firmly entrenched in the country. People who commit racist crimes are often not prosecuted while victims are often blamed.
Hattie Carrol’s crime was not getting a drink quick enough; Arbery’s fatal misstep was for invading the sanctity of a white neighborhood; Trayvon Martin, 17, was killed while walking through a white neighborhood after a visit to a local convenience store; Jordan Davis, 17, was shot dead in a gas station parking lot by a white man who complained that Davis and his friends were playing loud music; Eric Garner, 43, was killed by a New York City police officer after he was stopped for illegally selling individual cigarettes; unarmed teenager Michael Brown was killed by police outside of an apartment complex in Ferguson, Mo.; Laquan McDonald, 17, was shot 16 times in 13 seconds by police after he refused to drop a three-inch knife in Chicago, Ill.; Tamir Rice, 12, was seen pointing a fake gun at people in Cleveland, Ohio. Police arrived and shot Rice dead; Freddie Gray ran after seeing police in Baltimore, Md. He was arrested for possessing an illegal switchblade but police refused to give him his inhaler and he sustained injuries in the back of a police van that later led to his death.
Nothing very funny here.