The father-and-son duo said they believed that Ahmaud Arbery was responsible for burglaries in the neighborhood — though there is no police record of that alleged spate of thefts. The Georgia Bureau of Investigation has charged the McMichaels with aggravated assault and murder.
But let’s set that aside for now. Let us focus on Wanda Cooper-Jones, because this holiday has always held special significance. Ahmaud Arbery was born on Mother’s Day 1994. His birthday this year would have fallen on Friday. He would have turned 26.
With Ahmaud’s senseless death, Wanda Cooper-Jones joined the group of grieving black women whose sons’ and daughters’ names have turned into grief-soaked hashtags. She joins the group that calls itself the “Circle of Mothers” — women who understand what it is like for the world to suddenly know your child’s name for the very worst of reasons. Trayvon Martin, Jordan Davis, Renisha McBride, Michael Brown, Philando Castile . . . so many names . . . too many names.
Wanda Cooper-Jones has been quietly grieving for months, but with the release of video capturing her son’s death, she had a swift initiation into this sorority of sorrow, and like each mother before her, she will have to balance her private grief with public expectations. She will be asked to sit in front of television cameras when most would rather just draw the shades and pull the covers over their heads. Movement activists will come bearing food and invitations to speak at rallies, to protest gun violence and to boldly confront America’s festering racial wounds.
I am consistently amazed at the courage and eloquence of women such as Lucy McBath, Sybrina Fulton, Valerie Castile, Lezley McSpadden and Gwen Carr. They pull it together. They put their best face on. They lift up their dead children while marching quite literally on a trail of tears . . . funerals . . . trials . . . more often acquittals than convictions . . . protests . . . more attention . . . more demands . . . suddenly friends in high places . . . no real time to tend to low emotional spaces . . . and a fresh round of pain with each new conscript because learning about another senseless act of violence is like reliving the theft of their own child’s life.
Wanda Cooper-Jones said police initially told her that there was a burglary and that “Ahmaud was confronted by the homeowner, there was a confrontation and at that time there was a struggle over a firearm.”
That is not the story captured in the grainy footage from a video captured by a motorist. Arbery, wearing a T-shirt and shorts, is running down a road three miles from his home, trees on either side draped with Spanish moss, when he comes upon a pickup truck and meets the men who take his life.
Wanda Cooper-Jones says she never intends to watch that video. Her family has seen it and they have described it. That is enough for her. Arbery’s family members say they appreciate that the video found its way to the public. “They did not arrest the killers of Ahmaud Arbery because they saw the video. They arrested the killers of Ahmaud Arbery because we saw the video,” said Benjamin Crump, a lawyer working with Arbery’s family.
So we have to ask, what if there was no video? The Circle of Mothers almost always has that horrible keepsake, the video that captures the pop, the stumble, the slump, the moment when their child’s life expires.
I am so tired of seeing black death on small screens. Exhausted by the constant reminder that black bodies immediately represent a threat. Anguished because when I look at these videos, I see the people I love — my husband, my sons, nephews, my people. I am reminded that, despite their accomplishment and commitment to civic life, they can so easily encounter men who will see none of that, men who will feel justified in extinguishing a perceived threat.
I am not a card-carrying member of that Circle of Mothers, but I live with the constant fear that I could be. Most black women do. Heck, most black people do. But our sorrow and umbrage alone won’t shake the bias out of America’s soul.
This country will never confront the attitudes, the fear of black bodies, the slow roll of justice for black lives cut short too soon unless and until enough people who don’t see their sons and husbands and loved ones in that grainy footage work up enough umbrage and will to do more than just issue condolences on Twitter.
That would be one way to honor Wanda Cooper-Jones on this Mother’s Day.