"The Tale of Two Quarantines" by Jeffrey Aviña
Ever since the Coronavirus made it to the United States in late January, it has been a trial by fire for all of us. We have had to get used to phrases like essential, non-essential, social distancing, and contact tracing. Unemployment is at its highest since the Great Depression and prolonged isolation has taken its toll on many of us. But as we face these new challenges, the ghosts of our oldest problems are still knocking to remind us that they are still around.
Ahmaud Arbery was jogging one morning when he was shot and killed by two assailants, Gregory and Travis McMichael. The father and son had suspicions that Arbery had committed a string of robberies in the neighborhood. The two cornered Arbery in the street and after a short struggle between Arbery and the younger McMichael, shot Arbery and killed him in the street. Although the story of corruption and racism doesn't stop at the moment that the trigger was pulled. This case went 74 days without a proper hearing or before any charges were laid upon the McMichaels. We only know about this because of a viral video that surfaced earlier this week showing the crime in its entirety. But now that we know, where do we go from here?
Protests began this week with the hashtag #IRunwithAhmaud to make sure that their voices were being heard. Three days after the protests began, the killers were arrested and charged with murder.
It took nearly 3 months for this case to be heard for reasons that seem to allude logic and only point to corruption. Gregory McMichaels used to be a Police detective and it is suspected because of that fact that this case was almost swept under the rug and became another misunderstanding. The legal rationale is that the two perpetrators were trying to make a citizens arrest and when they failed to do so, fatally shot Arbery in "self-defense". While this is legal under Georgian law, this is not what had transpired. It is only legal to make a citizens arrest if you had seen a felony take place or had immediate knowledge of it. The incident report from the Glynn County Police Department even lists Travis McMichael as a witness instead of a suspect and notes that the officer "observed blood on McMichaels' hands."
The killing and subsequent protest of Ahmaud Arbery has not been the only display of civil disobedience during this quarantine neither.
Beginning in Michigan, all across the country people have gathered to protest the closing of the economy and have been demanding that the government open the economy. Protestors were seen carrying signs saying "I need a haircut!" or "I need my nails done!" and also carried firearms. I am aware that the right to protest doesn't belong to only one group but all Americans as a collective, but it is important to look inward at one's actions and be able to say, "yes, I support this." The protestors in favor of reopening the economy so that they can go back to work aren’t fighting for their ability to work but rather for others to work for them. They find that the minor inconvenience of not having a spa day (which I might add is something that the older generation criticizes ours for taking too much of) so inconvenient that they are demanding that these people return to work for them. Not only is it dangerous to gather in the numbers that they are amidst a pandemic, but it is dangerous for the families for the workers that they are demanding a return. Many state and local governments have been taking social distancing seriously as a way to mitigate and slow the spread of the virus, but people demanding for a premature reopening are risking even more outbreaks across the country in areas that just aren't equipped for the level of spread that these protestors are inviting.
I understand the hypocrisy that I have just depicted. Why would it be ok for people to protest for Arbery but not for the reopening of the country? While protests, in general, are not advantageous for anyone, let's see who benefits from each one. For the protests taking place in Georgia, they are out there to protest something that would ideally prevent unneeded suffering in the future. The shutdown protestors will ensure that the spread of COVID-19 will continue to ravage lower, working-class, and communities of color as it already has.
I will leave you with this comparison: one is calling for the arrest of a modern-day lynching and one is for a manicure. In the words of writer and comedian Akilah Hughes; "This is America, don't look away."