• Terry Watson

The Evolution of ‘Master-Slave Killing'

Updated: May 9


Reflecting on America’s reaction to the killing of Ahmaud Arbery.


As I prepare to address a University from the Neverlands on the topic of police brutality in America, I glance at the questions they sent me in preparation. The first question they are asking me to address is, "Why police brutality happens and under what conditions and why does it continue to occur?" I read this question in light of this week's events and the shooting death of Ahmaud Arbery, which truly shakes me. Understandably, the individuals who shot and killed Mr. Arbery were not active law-enforcement; however, according to USA Today, Greg McMichael (the father) was a fellow police officer and, therefore, a level of responsibility should be considered. Reflecting on this situation, I do not need permission to feel anger and distrust towards a justice system considering the lack of pursued justice. But what gets to me is the feeling that I have seen this behavior represented in America's response before.

When I first read the story about a 25-year-old black man (Ahmaud Arbery) being gunned down in the state of Georgia by Travis McMichael (34) and his father Gregory McMichael (64), my immediate reaction was, here we go again. As the story developed and with the release of the video, it was no surprise to see an outcry for the arrest of Travis and Gregory McMichael. After all, this is the cycle that I have come to know. An incident happens, the evidence withheld from the public, video/audio evidence released to the public, public outcry develops, and the presentation of justice pursues. I will classify this as a presentation of justice because a trial has not yet taken place, and therefore a conviction is not upon us.

However, on May 6, 2020, I dawned a question. With the release of the video and the executioner's own recant of what happened, why was there no arrest in February, March, or even April? Seeing a man jogging, pursing him in a truck with a handgun and shotgun, then killing him, sounds straight forward. Even with their story of believing Mr. Arbery was involved in burglaries does not clear them of ill-intent nor justify them approaching him with arms. So, I ask still, why no arrest? Why no presumption of wrongdoing? And to answer my question, it's merely the embedded narrative in the fabrication of America.

In 2017, an author/professor/lawyer by the name of Andre Fede published a book titled Homicide Justified. In short, this book provides an in-depth comparative look (as stated in its subtitle) into the legality of killing Slaves in the United States and the Atlantic World. Represented in this text, as well as other books that capture the narratives of slavery in the United States, legal amplifications and progression throughout time are not only analyzed, but the culture and attitudes presented within America too. As this book promises, it respectfully covers the debate amongst the standards of enslaved homicides throughout time and its societal lack or retribution, but more uniquely, it embarks on the consciousness of the mindset which allows for this debate's existence.

So that leads me to today, pondering, how can a man jogging, be murdered, in a free society, meant to protect all citizens? Even more so, how can this society still lack retribution? First, it is my opinion that reformed laws are without honest intent. Meaning that the reformation of laws, at least in America, has not been reformed due to moral or religious obligations. Nor due to the consideration of the suffering or generational trauma caused within its society. No, its changes are to the benefit of the oppressor, not the oppressed. The progression of reformed rules occurred only with the promise to continue the legacy and the cognition of white supremacy. To explain, this is how for nearly two months, a district attorney, a police force, and yes, the murderers themselves, can sleep at night. Woven in their cognition from centuries of narratives, Mr. Arbery must have been guilty because he fit a description.

My second opinion to express is the false narratives that allowed a free society to have slaves and murder these slaves at will, still exists today. While the institution of slavery in American transformed, the mindset, social cognition, the thriving will of white supremacy is as well as it has ever been. As quoted from the conclusion of Fede (2017),

"The slave homicide laws … exposed even slave owners to execution for murdering their slaves. But they continued to permit masters to kill their slaves as a result of moderate correction or if their slaves dared even to threaten to resist their masters' authority, thus denying to slaves the criminal law's equal protection" (p.223).

In my final thought, I want to address the title, The Evolution of 'Master-Slave Killing.' I have continued to argue that to deal with healing, we have to acknowledge the wounds in the first place. I am afraid that still, in America, we lack the understanding of the development of our country's consciousness. We are projected to repeat ourselves, tragedy after tragedy, just because we refuse to face our past and its hypocrisies.

Book Referenced

Fede, Andrew T. Homicide Justified: The Legality of Killing Slaves in the United States and the Atlantic World. University of Georgia Press, 2017. Project MUSE muse.jhu.edu/book/52491.

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