Friday, May 08, 2020

Murder, Without Lynching, Is Bad Enough

In a case of "better late than never"

Georgia authorities arrested a white father and son Thursday and charged them with murder in the February shooting death of a black man they had pursued in a truck after spotting him running in their neighborhood.

The charges came more than two months after Ahmaud Arbery, 25, was killed on a residential street just outside the port city of Brunswick. National outrage over the case swelled this week after cellphone video that appeared to show the shooting....

The Georgia Bureau of Investigation announced the arrests the day after it began its own investigation at the request of an outside prosecutor. The agency said in a news release that Gregory McMichael and his 34-year-old son, Travis McMichael, had both been jailed on charges of murder and aggravated assault.

The GBI news release said the McMichaels “confronted Arbery with two firearms. During the encounter, Travis McMichael shot and killed Arbery.” No other details were immediately released....

The video shows a black man running at a jogging pace on the left side of a road. A truck is parked in the road ahead of him. One of the white men is inside the pickup’s bed. The other is standing beside the open driver’s side door.

The runner crosses the road to pass the pickup on the passenger side, then crosses back in front of the truck. A gunshot sounds, and the video shows the runner grappling with a man in the street over what appears to be a shotgun or rifle. A second shot can be heard, and the runner can be seen punching the man. A third shot is fired at point-blank range. The runner staggers a few feet and falls face down....

Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden has called Arbery’s death a “murder.” During an online roundtable Thursday, Biden compared the video to seeing Arbery “lynched before our very eyes.”

Biden has it half-right; or rather, has it half-right at best. Under Title 16, Chapter 5 of the Georgia criminal code adopted in 2010 (emphasis mine)

a) A person commits the offense of murder when he unlawfully and with malice aforethought, either express or implied, causes the death of another human being.

(b) Express malice is that deliberate intention unlawfully to take the life of another human being which is manifested by external circumstances capable of proof. Malice shall be implied where no considerable provocation appears and where all the circumstances of the killing show an abandoned and malignant heart.

(c) A person also commits the offense of murder when, in the commission of a felony, he causes the death of another human being irrespective of malice.

(d) A person convicted of the offense of murder shall be punished by death, by imprisonment for life without parole, or by imprisonment for life.

We don't know yet and probably won't know for awhile whether the defendants plead guilty and if not, if they will be found guilty at trial. However, it appears that the McMichaels did cause the death of Ahmaud Arbery with implied intent. While the perpetrators' purpose probably was not to take the victim's life, there was no considerable provocation on the part of the victim.

But Biden is wrong about "lynching." This was no lynching as it has been, and is, commonly understood. A Geoffrey Abbott once explained for the Encyclopedia Brittanica

Lynching, a form of violence in which a mob, under the pretext of administering justice without trial, executes a presumed offender, often after inflicting torture and corporal mutilation.

Two people do not constitute a mob, there was nothing akin to torture or mutilation, and it appears that the McMichaels did not set out to kill an individual as "execution" implies.

Joe Biden called the act a "murder." He could have added that it was unprovoked. He might even have charged that had the victim been white, he would not have been targeted. The first two appear to be accurate; the last, completely unproven but probably valid.

But don't call it a "lynching."  It is inaccurate and would be incendiary, were anyone in the age of Trump still inclined to concern himself or herself with the actual meaning of the spoken word. Further, it trivializes lynching, in which a mob set out to murder someone because of his race, did so in a particularly brutal manner, and didn't miss on the first two shots.

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