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Analysis: Demonizing Black victims is an old racist trope that didn’t work for defense attorneys this time

Race and racial tensions have been clearly on show inside and out of doors the Georgia courtroom the place the three males have been tried, at the same time as each the defense and the prosecution shied away from these discussions. Instead, the jury heard from the defense quite a lot of racist canine whistles.

From assertions that Black pastors may frighten jurors to a comment about Arbery’s “long, dirty toenails,” the defense’s technique was rife with rhetoric that sought to dehumanize and devalue Black Americans.
“What I saw was the defense preying on White fears,” mentioned Carol Anderson, a historian and the chair of African American research at Emory University. “The ‘long, dirty toenails’ — that is an old trope of the ‘Black Beast.’ That is the stuff coming out of Reconstruction and Jim Crow.”

Here’s why the heart-wrenching trial was a textbook instance of the criminalization and dehumanization of Black male victims:

Arbery had ‘lengthy, soiled toenails,’ defense lawyer mentioned

During closing arguments, a defense lawyer for Gregory McMichael, one of many males charged with Arbery’s homicide, tried to painting Arbery as a “runaway slave,” mentioned Charles Coleman Jr., a civil rights lawyer and former prosecutor.

“Turning Ahmaud Arbery into a victim after the choices that he made does not reflect the reality of what brought Ahmaud Arbery to Satilla Shores in his khaki shorts with no socks to cover his long, dirty toenails,” lawyer Laura Hogue informed the jurors.

The comment, which seemed to be primarily based on Arbery’s post-mortem, introduced an audible gasp from folks within the courtroom and prompted Arbery’s mom to stroll out.

“Regardless of what kind of toenails he had, what size legs he had, that was still my son, and my son actually was running for his life in that description. I thought that was just flat-out rude,” Arbery’s mom, Wanda Cooper-Jones, informed CNN’s John Berman on “AC 360” earlier this week.

To Cooper-Jones, the defense was making an attempt to deflect from the actual fact that it didn’t “have the proper evidence to get a conviction.”

Defense lawyer prompts outrage for bringing up Ahmaud Arbery's toenails in closing arguments
Angie Maxwell, a political scientist on the University of Arkansas and the co-author of the 2019 e-book “The Long Southern Strategy: How Chasing White Voters in the South Changed American Politics,” mentioned that she believes that the defense was making an attempt to place Arbery “in a (specific) category of Black person.”

The toenails remark tried to sign to jurors that Arbery was “one of ‘those’ Black people who isn’t someone you would admire or respect,” Maxwell mentioned, somebody “you can’t trust, and who doesn’t take care of himself.”

Benjamin Crump, the civil rights lawyer who represented Arbery’s father, mentioned that Hogue used “dog-whistle rhetoric.”

“She was saying he’s a scary Black man, and so if you say he’s a scary Black person and make the jury believe that, then you want them to divorce themselves of what they see on that video of a human being being chased down and being lynched in broad daylight,” Crump informed CNN.

Those techniques have been unsettling for the household and for many watching the trial not as a result of they have been novel — however as a result of the nation has seen all of them earlier than. During the Reconstruction and Jim Crow eras, Black Americans have been depicted as brutes, a caricature that was echoed final yr in former President Donald Trump’s description of protesters chanting “Black Lives Matter” as “very bad people” and “thugs.”

Arbery was linked to crimes and concern

Fear was one other racist canine whistle utilized by defense attorneys, who highlighted the troubles prompted by a string of unreported crimes within the neighborhood.

Travis McMichael testified that on the evening of February 11, 2020 — practically two weeks earlier than Arbery’s capturing — he noticed somebody “creeping through the shadows” within the neighborhood.

He testified that the individual, whom he later described to police as a Black man, “pulled up his shirt” and went for his “pocket, waistband area.” McMichael mentioned that he assumed that the individual was armed, so he jumped again into his automobile, and the individual ran to the home below development. He referred to as the authorities, however the police by no means caught, talked to and even noticed the individual he mentioned that he noticed that evening, he testified.

When he encountered Arbery weeks later, McMichael was fearing for his and his father’s lives, defense lawyer Jason Sheffield argued in court docket.

Left to right: Travis McMichael, William "Roddie" Bryan and Gregory McMichael

Arbery was jogging and stopped by the unoccupied home, his household mentioned. Prosecutors confirmed the jury surveillance movies of Arbery getting into the location, every time wandering round and leaving with out incident.

But the defense insisted that, even when he hadn’t stolen something, Arbery was committing housebreaking as a result of he entered the under-construction home illegally.

Anderson, the historian, mentioned that folks of many races and ethnicities take a look at homes below development, and their habits is seen as normal or regular.

“But for a Black person to do that, somehow that’s criminal. So you have the criminalization of Blackness coursing through this thing,” Anderson mentioned.

The property’s proprietor, Larry English Jr., testified in September that a number of folks in addition to Arbery entered the property and that he by no means licensed the McMichaels to confront anybody.

The McMicheals’ determination to chase Arbery was rooted within the thought that Black individuals are criminals, Anderson mentioned.

“This was like the slave patrol that felt that it had the right to question Black people, to police the movements of Black people, to challenge Black people wherever they were,” Anderson mentioned.

Defense argued Black pastors have been intimidating

Defense lawyer Kevin Gough’s try and ban Black pastors from the courtroom throughout the trial was an affront to Black pastors’ function in comforting grieving households.

Gough mentioned that having high-profile figures was intimidating and an try and strain or affect the jury. While he apologized for his feedback, days later, greater than 100 Black pastors fashioned a “Wall of Prayer” to indicate their solidarity with Arbery’s household and their opposition to Gough’s feedback.

A lawyer in the Arbery death trial tried to keep Black pastors out of court. So more than 100 showed up today
For Anderson, the writer of the 2021 e-book “The Second: Race and Guns in a Fatally Unequal America,” the lawyer’s remarks recalled these made by the defense lawyer for the lads who killed Emmett Till in 1955.

“When he looked at the jury and said something like, ‘Every last Anglo-Saxon one of you knows that this is what we’re fighting down here. You’ll find these men not guilty.’ That’s what that sounded like to me,” Anderson mentioned.

“It sounded like, ‘Every last Anglo-Saxon one of you knows that Black people are threatening. They’re intimidating. And they’re out to destroy our community. What the McMichaels and Bryan did was protect our community,'” she added.

An almost all-White jury

The trial jury that discovered the McMichaels and Bryan responsible consisted of 11 White jurors and one Black juror, a breakdown that fueled the Black group’s insecurity within the legal justice system early on within the trial.

Scholars and legislation specialists mentioned that the racial breakdown was harking back to the Jim Crow period and shortly drew comparisons with the aftermath of Emmett Till’s loss of life.

“Here some 65 years later, we’ve advanced to the point of having potentially one Black juror who will sit on this jury,” mentioned Daryl D. Jones, an lawyer with the Transformative Justice Coalition, referring to the 1955 trial during which the 2 males arrested in Till’s slaying have been acquitted by an all-White jury.

For Black residents of Ahmaud Arbery's hometown, trust in the justice system is on trial right alongside his accused killers

During the jury choice, defense attorneys drew criticism after they expressed their issues over the dearth of “Bubba” males.

“It would appear that White males born in the South, over 40 years of age, without four-year college degrees, sometimes euphemistically known as ‘Bubba’ or ‘Joe Six Pack,’ seem to be significantly underrepresented,” Gough, the lawyer who represented Bryan, informed the court docket on the time.

Other circumstances are ‘eerily related’

Over the previous decade, many unarmed Black males and boys have been dehumanized throughout court docket procedures.

“Remember they assassinated the character of Trayvon Martin after he had been assassinated, and now they’re doing the exact same thing almost 10 years later with Ahmaud Arbery. I mean, the similarities are eerily similar,” Crump, the lawyer representing Arbery’s father, mentioned hours earlier than the decision was learn on Wednesday,

Crump additionally referred to as the case “Trayvon Martin 2.0” on CNN’s New Day.

Martin was 17 years old when he was shot to loss of life by George Zimmerman in 2012. The capturing and Zimmerman’s subsequent acquittal in 2013 launched the Black Lives Matter motion and reminded Americans that they weren’t dwelling in a post-racial society.

After Martin’s loss of life, protesters nationwide wore hoodies in a nod to the shooter’s description of {the teenager}. Zimmerman informed a 911 operator that he noticed a “suspicious” individual carrying a “dark hoodie” moments earlier than he shot {the teenager} in what he mentioned was self-defense, in line with the police. Martin’s household and supporters mentioned that they imagine that race performed a job within the capturing.

But practically 10 years after Martin’s loss of life, civil rights activists and protesters secured some solace from Wednesday’s verdict within the Arbery loss of life trial case.

Speaking outdoors the courtroom following the convictions of all three defendants, household lawyer Crump mentioned, “Think about how long he (Marcus Arbery Sr.) and Wanda have been enduring all the innuendo, all the allegations, all the character assassinations, long legs with dirty toenails. Just imagine all they went through.”

CNN’s Alta Spells, Angela Barajas, Theresa Waldrop and Amir Vera contributed to this report.

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