According to McMichael, he ran in his house and grabbed his son, Travis, and both grabbed their weapons. McMichael told police they armed themselves because they “didn’t know if the male was armed or not.” McMichael also told police he saw Arbery “the other night” stick his hand down his pants, which led him to believe he was armed. Arbery was not armed.
No one living knows what Arbery felt in his final moments. No one living knows what Arbery felt as he approached the white pickup truck parked on the two-lane road, blocking his way. No one living knows what he felt as he saw Gregory McMichael standing in the truck’s bed and saw Travis McMichael standing outside the passenger door wielding a shotgun.
All I know is what I would have felt. If I were running under the falling moss, if two armed white men were coming after me in their pickup truck—and a third not far behind—then I would have felt the wrath of terror: racist terror.
And I know the feeling of racist terror. I know what it feels like when a white man—in my case a police officer—suspects me as an armed criminal and pursues me and clutches his gun when I’m just out running (errands). I was three years older than Arbery, who would have turned 26 on Friday. I lived, and Arbery died. Arbery could have lived, and I could have died.
And I could have been placed in a morgue near all those black bodies falling from COVID-19, at rates higher than any other racial group, in states from Georgia to Maine, from Michigan to South Carolina, from Ohio to South Dakota, according to the COVID Racial Data Tracker. We can’t see the coronavirus like we can’t see the fears that terrorize us, but we keep feeling their lethal effects.
I just don’t think Americans fully realize how terrorizing it is to black males when we are falsely suspected as violent criminals. All Americans seem to be thinking about is their fear of us—not our fear of their fear. Black males fear racist fear because we know from experience what happens when the police are called, when the Klan is called, when faces are reddened, when purses or ropes or guns are clutched, when they cross the street away from us, or cross the street toward us clutching their police badges, or their badges of white masculinity.
It is terrifying to produce so much unwanted and unwarranted fear. And then we are harmed. And then we are killed. And then our killers claim self-defense. And then our killers cast us—the unarmed ones, the dead ones—as the aggressors, as Gregory McMichael cast Arbery in the police report, justifying his son pulling the trigger; as George Zimmerman’s lawyers cast Trayvon Martin in a strikingly similar case.
If I was chased by armed white men on an afternoon jog, then I would have thought they were trying to lynch me. I might not have run past their pickup truck, especially if they had been pursuing me for some time, especially if one of them was standing outside the car holding a gun. I would have thought he had gotten out of the car to shoot me. I would have feared that if I ran past the car, he’d shoot me in the back. I would have felt the need to disarm him to save my life.