Law & Justice & Ahmaud Arbery

I read a letter from the district attorney of the Waycross circuit in Georgia. In this letter, the DA explains why he had to recuse himself from Ahmaud Arbery’s case. He cites the reasons why he can’t take on the case, and then proceeds to give his opinions about the case anyway. Don’t take my word for it, you can read his letter here. 

The District attorney, George E. Barnhill summarizes why he believes there are no grounds to arresting the men who shot and killed Armaud Arbery. I remain unconvinced that Barnhill understands what recusing himself of the case means considering he still commented. He cites Georgia law throughout his letter and finally concludes that there is “insufficient probable cause to issue arrest warrants” for any of the men who are responsible for Armaud Arbery’s death.

If you’ve not been keeping up with this case here is what we know as best as I understand (it can be difficult to pick up unbiased, what actually happened fact even if you read from all media outlets!) 

 Ahmaud Arbery was running in his neighborhood, when three men pursued him in a pick up truck with a shotgun and commanded him to stop running because they thought he was a burglary suspect (or as Barnhill states, “with first hand probable cause, they hotly pursued the burglary suspect”). When Ahmaud Arbery was confronted (with deadly force, I might add), Ahmaud Arbery, like any rational man, fought back. In Barnhill’s words, under Georgia Law, “once confronted with a deadly force situation an individual is allowed to use deadly force to defend themselves or others.” I do not see how we can permit those individuals (who armed themselves with full intention of going to arrest an unarmed man) to use deadly force while the man who was confronted FIRST with deadly force is not also allowed to use deadly force.

Do these laws only apply to white men?

Laws are designed to protect us. Use deadly force if your life is at risk. If someone attacks you, you can fight back. The law gives us permission to do so. 

Perhaps I should be careful when I use the word us.  

Ahmaud Arbery was the man who was first confronted with deadly force. Three men with a weapon targeted him and commanded him to stop. Rather than call the police and allow them to investigate, they chose a citizens death. Ahmaud tried to defend himself, (again I want you to ask yourself what you would have done, what your brother or dad or uncle would have done in this scenario?) but instead lost his life because these men thought he was a burglary suspect. 

There’s not an easy transition to my next thought, so here goes: Have you ever studied the text of Psalm 119?

It is the longest chapter in the entire bible consisting of 176 verses. The author is unknown to us, but we know the author knew hebrew poetry for Psalm 119 is an acrostic poem, consisting of 22 sections of eight verses each. Each of the 22 sections correspond with a letter of the Hebrew alphabet (Aleph, Beth, Gimel, etc.), and each of the eight verses per section begin with that same Hebrew letter. Most notably, the Psalm contains themes centering on the blessings of the Torah (or the Jewish Law). Almost every section of the Psalm includes an admonishment to follow the Torah, or other words closely related to the Hebrew word Torah like teachings, promise, and the word. 

“Blessed are those who way is blameless, who walk in the law of the Lord. Blessed are those who keep his testimonies, who seek him with their whole heart.” 

“I will meditate on your precepts and fix my eyes on your ways. I will delight in your statues; I will not forget your word.” 

“Open my eyes that I may behold wondrous things out of your law.” 

“Give me understanding that I may keep your law and observe it with my whole heart.” 

“The insolent have dug pitfalls for me; they do not live according to your law. All your commandments are sure, they persecute me with falsehood; help me! “ 

“The wicked lie in wait to destroy me, but I consider your testimonies” 

“Oh how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day.” 

“The wicked have laid a snare for me but I do not stray from your precepts. Your testimonies are my heritage forever, for they are the joy of my heart.” 

and the one I quote most often to the teenagers as to why they should crack open their bibles…

“The unfolding of your word gives light; it imparts the understanding to the simple.” 

William Wilberforce was a British politician who was a leader in the abolition of slavery in Britain. William Wilberforce began his journey of conviction to abolish slave trade in 1786 and continued to fight to see it abolished through his lifetime. In 1833, just three days before his death, the British parliament passed the Slavery Abolition Act 1833. 

A lesser known fact about William Wilberforce is that he would continually recite Psalm 119 in its entirety as he walked from Parliament to his home. For twenty years, while he served in Parliament, Wilberforce kept the Word of God and the Way of God before him. 

Wilberforce committed 176 verses to memory which anchored his soul in the way of the Lord and encouraged the man to continually peer into, gaze upon, and observe Gods’ law so that he might live an undefiled life before God and man. I’d say a man committed to abolishing slavery understood a thing or two about God’s way. There was blessing in this, not only for Wilberforce, but for countless generations of enslaved men and women and their future posterity.

Much of God’s law counsels the man or woman who loves Him to seek justice for the vulnerable. To seek justice in Hebrew carries more meaning than our English word. It not only instructs us to understand what justice is (with our heads!) but to work justice out (with our hands and in our actions!) A person of faith who seeks God’s way is fully concerned with the full acquisition of wisdom which will equip him/her to live righteously, justly, and equitably. This person must apply their heart, mind, and all to seeking God’s way. God gifts us with a special piece of himself, the holy spirit, which not only enables us to understand his way, but also gives us the ability to live in the way. We can live in God’s way because we have God living in us, propelling us into his way even when our flesh cannot seem to carry on. In Jesus terms, we not only get to know what the Rabbi knows, but we get to do what the Rabbi does and become who the rabbi is. A servant when fully mature will be just like his master. 

For the person of faith, contemplating the word justice as God means it in the bible means that God will likely turn your world inside out and upside down. It can mean that ‘your resources’ those possessions, materials, status, and wealth that you earned are not really yours to begin with. It can mean that what you’ve been taught to believe about who you are and who others are and how you relate to one another can be wrong. It can mean that you will find yourself out of alignment with popular opinion, or worse still, out of sorts with ‘your’ people.

Anything in my life which I ‘possess’ is only borrowed. I can give it back to God of my own choosing or I can hoard it for myself. In this case, I have a status I did not choose. I have unconsciously benefited from that status in unfathomable ways. In this particular case, Gregory and Travis McMichael’s status set them free while Ahmaud’s status brought a sentence of death upon his shoulders. Where’s the justice in that?

We all have a choice to make.

We can choose God’s way. For his glory and for the good of others. 

Or We can choose my way. For our glory and for the harm of all others. 

One could say that the three men who stalked Ahmaud Arbery believed they were taking justice into their own hands. After all, if he truly took something from them, don’t they have the right under law to get it back?

 But wasn’t Ahmaud’s life much more valuable than any material could, might, or possibly have been lost?

A black man in our country has greater odds of being shot by a police officer than winning the lottery. 

Can I just repeat that phrase and let it sink in?

A black man has greater odds of being shot by a police officer than winning the lottery. Well, black men commit more crimes, right? Or if he wasn’t doing anything wrong, nothing would have happened, right? Well, tell that to our good friend Botham Jean. What was he doing wrong? And those of you reading this blog are in my sphere, so you knew Botham’s character. You went to school with him, saw him sing in chapel, watched him live his life for God. What crime did he commit when his life was taken?

Can you still believe that all of this is alright?

A group of armed white men who shot and killed someone have greater odds of not being convicted than an unarmed black man who committed no crime. They have the full weight of the law on their side. At least they have the opinion of an unbiased judge who felt he could give opinion even though he ‘recused’ himself. 

  This is a great injustice. 

We have a responsibility to all citizens of the United States to ensure that our laws are just. We have a duty to ensure that wrongs are righted, that harm to others is punished, and that all citizens of our great nation have the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. We have a duty to ensure when a crime is committed against a man running in his neighborhood, when a life is taken that cannot ever be recovered, we have a duty to make it right. To bring justice. To examine everything that happened, considering carefully who was in the wrong. At the very least, give Ahmaud equal consideration under the law without pointing to possible character flaws, or concluding that he did something to deserve it before reviewing all the facts.

But for us who believe in God, for those who look into God’s perfect way, who choose to live for his glory and for the good of others. 

So much more is required of us. 

“Righteous are you, O Lord, and right are your rules. You have appointed your testimonies in righteousness and in all faithfulness. Our zeal consumes us, because our foes forget your words. Your promise is well tried, and your servants love it. We are small and despised, yet we do not forget your precepts. Your righteousness is righteous forever and your law is true. Trouble and anguish have found us out, but your commandments are our delight.Your testimonies are righteous forever; give us understanding that we may live.*”

We will run in the way of your commandments when you enlarge our hearts. 

O Lord, enlarge our hearts! 

#GodrunswithAhmaud #BlackLivesMatter 

*Text modified to reflect plural pronouns. The original text is written in singular pronouns, and can be found in verses 119:137-144.

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