We know well that if the right question is asked, the answer doesn’t matter. The classic example -“Do you still beat your spouse?”- shows us that the answers are circumscribed in the question. We understand this when it comes to this question but rarely do we see that we lend credence to similar questions all the time.
Even in matters of life, death, and justice.
On February 23th, 2020, a young man of 25- Ahmaud Arbery, was shot and killed while jogging in a small Georgia town. A video of the grisly murder has been circulating online and the case has become something of a cause celebre in the United States.
For the most part, when an unarmed person is gunned down in the street, there is indeed little controversy. As it turns out- and for reasons clear as day- when the victim is a young African-American man, controversy is contrived — to obstruct, obscure, and instigate.
In keeping with this, controversy is swirling in the Arbery case. It has taken months for prosecutors to charge the two men who killed Arbery. Initially, they did not find “probable cause” to arrest these men despite clear evidence. Now, pictures of Arbery at a construction site are popping up, suggesting that he might have been engaged in felonious activity, furthering the notion that the murderers had the right to chase him down — given their suspicion that he had the appearance of a suspect in a rash of robberies in the neighborhood.
Let’s stop here for a moment? Was Arbery a thief? Did he provide the two white men justification for his presence on the street? What were they supposed to do?
“Do you still beat your spouse?”
Seriously, do you?
When we ask or merely entertain these questions, we are murdering Arbery once again. It’s really that simple. When a man is gunned down in cold-blood, how could it possibly matter if he was a thief or whether he had committed some minor infraction? Which person alive has never done something wrong and even if so, since when has that given anyone the right to kill him, no less some local trigger-happy fools? If we entertain these questions as relevant- in any way- we do so because we are seeking some way to exonerate the murderers, some way to suggest that the black life snuffed out didn’t matter. When the right question is asked, the answer doesn’t matter.
There is of course more to it. Two white men found it well within their rights to police a black man. Two white men in fact forced an innocent man into defending himself and then killed him as he did so- they provoked the interaction. This is as grisly as it gets. It is outright murder. There cannot be any extenuating circumstances or questions asked.
We exercise similar condonation with rapists who prey on women. “Was she wearing a short skirt? Did she have the history of enjoying sex?” The moment we suggest that these questions are material, then we are engaging in excuse-making for what we, frankly, don’t want to consider a crime.
And that is the nub of the matter with the Arbery murder. We don’t want to consider this a crime. We want to ask questions, create confusion, find reasons to exonerate, and obscure the facts. Until we understand this- and stop sitting passively aside and asking immoral questions, then we are re-killing the 25 year old who, apparently, loved to jog.