When Our National Approach to Henhouse Safety Is “Trust the Fox.”
It is time for the President to stop using ‘White Supremacy’ as if it is something more than the racism we face on a daily basis.
During his first joint address to Congress Wednesday night, President Joe Biden got it wrong; again:
“We have to remain vigilant against the threats to the United States wherever they come from. . . . And we won’t ignore what our intelligence agencies have determined to be the most lethal terrorist threat to the homeland today: White Supremacy is terrorism.”
The President wasn’t intentionally saying White racism is terrorizing the nation, but he should have been. Instead, he wrongly drew a stark line between the good and just and the Derek Chauvins of America — between White Supremacists and our Better Angels. “And by fits and starts, our Better Angels had prevailed again, just enough, just enough against our worst impulses to make a new and better nation. And those Better Angels can prevail again, now.”
White Supremacist v. Better Angels is, of course, a false dichotomy — an error when setting the range of options.
Yes, there is a malevolent band of racism. The band is cowardly and usually quite easy to identify. They gather at the U.S. Capitol by the thousands to hang Pence effigies and smear feces on the walls. Of color America loses little sleep over those goofnuts.
It is the cruelty of the decent that delivers our night terrors. We know them well. Many voted for Obama. They lined up with us to trash Chauvin. They cloaked themselves in a race-breakthrough when the jury delivered his conviction. Then, they went home and grilled their daughter about her Black boyfriend.
White Supremacy is not the threat — everyday racism is.
In a nutshell, to rid society of racism’s true harm, we have to stage national pushback at the start point of racism’s true harm. The start point of true harm does not begin at “White Supremacy,” per Biden’s use (we disagree on the definition). The start point of true harm begins with the every day things White Americans do or don’t do. That is because it is the non-terrorist and non-extremist things that cause non-White Americans the most harm.
No no, I’m not asking.
Focusing on what the President holds out as the point of racism’s true harm makes the fight worse, not better. Like the term “White Ally,” It gives White America psychological cover (“Whew! At least I’m not THAT bad!”), then sends it out marching the wrong way.
Time to stop mapping the fight to somewhere “over there,” and get down to the business of facing you. There is no super bad-guy “other.” The threat is not “White Supremacy.” Our mortal danger is not from the malevolent extreme. The “other” is you, the threat is from you, and the mortal danger is about you too.
To illustrate, let’s play “Spot the White Supremacist.”
On February 23, 2020, three Glynn County men saw Black jogger Ahmaud Arbery in their neighborhood, confronted him, then killed him. Gregory and Travis McMichael, with William “Roddie” Bryan’s aide, commanded Ahmaud to stop. Despite their biological “authority,” Ahmaud refused, and they killed Ahmaud for not submitting. The three now face local homicide charges, and federal kidnaping and firearms charges.
FACT PATTERN 1 — THE DISTRICT ATTORNEY. Is he the “White Supremacist” Biden means?
The McMichaels and Bryan tried to seize Ahmaud because neighbors experienced recent burglary problems. Though he had nothing at all to do with those events, Ahmaud was Black and unfamiliar, and the men had a “bad feeling” about him.
Per Glynn County District Attorney (“DA”) George Barnhill’s reading of the law, those feelings vested the men with the right to seize Arbery. They were “in pursuit (sic) burglary suspect, with solid firsthand probable cause, in their neighborhood, and asking/ telling him to stop. It appears their intent was to stop and hold this criminal suspect until law enforcement arrived. Under Georgia Law [OCGA 17–4–60, this was] perfectly legal.”
Father and son McMichael drove in one truck that was about 48,000 pounds, and Bryan drove in another. Father McMichael hit Arbery with the 24 ton vehicle, then stopped. Son McMichael got out and confronted Ahmaud with a shotgun. Father McMichael — a former police detective — remained with the truck but drew his weapon.
Having already faced one potentially fatal assault and now confronted by a second, Ahmaud went for Son McMichael. “The guy turns and comes at him [Travis — Son McMichael], and they start wrestling and Travis shoots him right in the damn chest,” Father McMichael tells police. “The guy was trying to take the shotgun away from him [Travis].” Son McMichael kills Ahmaud after shooting him three times.
[⚠️WARNING: this is a clip of the killing. Proceed with extreme caution. It is haunting; achingly painful. I viewed it once, but never again].
Per the state, Ahmaud did *NOT* have the right to use lethal force in self-defense, in response to attack 1 by truck and attack 2 by shotgun. At the point Ahmaud went for the shotgun, he may have faced a risk of serious harm. He also may have had a right of defense. If so, however, that right did not include the right for Ahmaud to use deadly force to stop either McMichael attacker.
Per the state, Son McMichael *DID* have the right to use lethal force in self-defense when Ahmaud tried to save himself by taking the shotgun. When the son shot Ahmaud, the facts supported a clear threat with a risk of serious harm. Son McMichael then had a right of self-defense. That right included the right for him to use deadly force to stop Ahmaud from taking the shotgun.
“Given the fact Arbery initiated the fight, at the point Arbery grabbed the shotgun, under Georgia Law, McMichael was allowed to use deadly force to protect himself. . . . Arbery’s mental health records & prior convictions help explain his apparent aggressive nature and his possible thought pattern to attack an armed man,” says DA Barnhill.
Find any Klan members there?
FACT PATTERN 2 — THE GLYNN COUNTY POLICE DEPARTMENT. Is this the terrorism threat Biden means? That the country cannot afford to ignore?
The Glynn County Police Department (“GCPD”) initially investigated the McMichael/Bryan killing. “Police found Ahmaud Arbery lying on his stomach in the middle of the street, shot but moving his leg slightly and seeming to gasp for air.” On the other hand, Son McMichael — Travis — was calmed by a responding officer. Arms covered in Ahmaud’s blood the officer soothes Travis, telling him to take a breath.
“The first officer to arrive did not check for a pulse or provide assistance to Arbery. . . . By the time a second officer tended to him, Arbery had stopped moving.” Inversely, police allowed Travis to freely “move about the scene.” As GCPD body camera footage shows, police tended to him gently, neither handcuffing him nor placing him in a patrol unit.
Officer J. Brandeberry #128 was the officer who completed GCPD’s incident report. Through what is presumably an oversight, Officer Brandeberry noted that Gregory McMichael searched Ahmaud for a weapon, yet failed to note that Ahmaud Arbery was unarmed. And, within days of the killing, GCPD refreshed its report to link incidents of auto-theft, trespassing (twice), and “extra watch.” Presumably, these are among the events in the Satilla Shores neighborhood that prompted the pursuit to begin with. GCPD ultimately decided the facts warranted no arrests.
Admittedly, on February 23, Gregory McMichael claimed that he saw Ahmaud “hauling ass” down the street from earlier break-ins. McMichael “believed” Ahmaud may have had a gun then. Still. GCPD had the conflicting lead up statements, conflicting events description, and quite possibly Roddy Bryan’s video between then and the DA’s April 2 recusal. Plenty of time to refresh the evidence and make an arrest.
Not one of the involved officer prevailed “just enough against our worst impulses to make a new and better nation”: not officers R. Minshew #184, R. Leska #136, C. Mitchell # 198, J. Lewis #163, K. Roberts #130, W. Duggan #167, A. Jackson # 227, S. Lowrey #206, S. Ferguson #125, R. Nohilly #212, or P. Marcy #205.
Are we to assume they ALL have Proud Boy memberships?
FACT PATTERN 3 — THE ENTIRE ANCILLARY DA AND GCPD STAFF. Ok, so this is the homeland threat about which intelligence agencies warned Biden.
None of the other involved state agents raised an alarm either — not law clerks, researchers, aides, investigators, secretaries, mail clerks, copy clerks, receptionists, interns, nobody. Forget the White Supremacist; can you tease up even one Kind of Not Half Bad Angel?
FACT PATTERN 4 — Satilla Shores. Who here qualifies as the White Supremacy peril at which Biden aims the country?
All of the locals and witnesses went just as radio silent. No hue and cry by any of the twelve families who live on 219 Satilla Drive, and by none of the witnesses: Larry English, John Olsen, Randall Parr, Matthew Albenze, or Diego Perez.
“It took 74 days for suspects to be charged in the death of” Ahmaud Aubrey. Should we assume this was prime Better Angel vacation season?
LET’S REVIEW OUR FINDINGS.
We have DA George Barnhill; GCPD officers R. Minshew #184, R. Leska #136, C. Mitchell # 198, J. Lewis #163, K. Roberts #130, W. Duggan #167, A. Jackson # 227, S. Lowrey #206, S. Ferguson #125, R. Nohilly #212, and P. Marcy #205; Glynn County DA law clerks, researchers, aides, investigators, secretaries, mail clerks, copy clerks, receptionists, and interns; members of any of the twelve families who live on 219 Satilla Drive; and witnesses Larry English, John Olsen, Randall Parr, Matthew Albenze, or Diego Perez.
At the end of the day, a Black man was called to heel quite literally like a slave for his papers. White men ran him to ground, then executed him for non-submission. The Black man was left to suffocate and die, slowly and alone. The police took pains to give succor to his killers. And, the state found — out loud — the law says the man’s right to survive gives way to the rights of his killers.
All forty-ish of those people knew at least one of these things. They said nothing and did nothing. The state set the Black man’s killers free. And, the state effectively declared open season on all Black women and men. And the real battle to purge the nation of egregious racism is against . . . White Supremacists?
In law and morality and patriotism and American idealism, all the Better Angels went bad. Every state actor, every private citizen, and every Glynn County firewall of decency just fell. No one with knowledge served basic human decency, let alone flagged down outside eyes to watch for justice.
THE GAME IS NO GAME AT ALL.
Despite all that I don’t know, what I know for certain is this:
One, the “othering” of the White Supremacist gives White America permission to be bad, see bad, do nothing, yet feel good; and, two, that makes these folks a far greater threat to non-White lives than Derek Chauvin will ever be.
When you insist the source of race evil is the extreme, it is just a mask so as not to see you. It does little in the fight against racism. If these are Better Angels, it is time to raise the bar to “best”; if these are not White Supremacist, it is time to lower the bar to “Randy from next door.”
Before you engage me or others, here are a few things to keep in mind:
Catherine Pugh is an Attorney at Law and former Adjunct Professor at the Temple University, Japan. She developed and taught Race and the Law for its undergraduate program, and Evidence, Criminal Law, and Criminal and Civil Procedure for its law program. She has worked for the Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division, Special Litigation Section, and was a Public Defender for the State of Maryland. View her Race and Profiling Lecture Series appearance here. The view expressed here are personal. Nothing in this or any Medium writing is a legal recommendation, legal advice, or a legal opinion.
To my sweetest of loves: I am the wall for them; you are the wall for me. And nothing — nothing — has ever gotten past you. You are my everything. #CubanKitchen.
“It takes the wisdom of the elders . . .” Thank you for teaching us, loving us, leading us all: Mary Stovall Davis Budd, Andrea Tucker, Lorenzo Pugh, Dorris Pugh, Jacqueline Wallace, Roger Wallace, Kenneth Davis, Sandra Davis, and Karen Davis.
Keywords: racism, racism, culture, and society.