A few years ago, I saw a quote by poet Jasmine Mans. On a large white wall, in an empty room in defined black letters, it read: “My son will not be a martyr for a war he did not ask for.” Each and every time I read that quote, it hits me in a different place and cuts a little deeper than the time before.
The saddest and most disturbing part is I always have a reason to go back to that quote. Black men continued to be killed for nothing. They are unable to look into the bright eyes of their newborn. They are unable to throw their cap in the air with glowing pride at graduation. They are unable to live a full and complete life, all because of people who assume they are a threat.
Martyr. A person who suffers death rather than renounce their religion. A person who undergoes severe or constant suffering. A person who is put to death on behalf of a belief, often involving a sort of social justice.
War. A state of fighting between states and nations. A struggle between opposing forces.
Black man. A person who often becomes a martyr unwillingly in the ongoing war of systemic racism and white supremacy in America. He did not ask for this war. But since the color of his skin is determined he was involuntarily placed into a battle that seems impossible to escape.
This was the heartbreaking reality for Ahmaud Arbery.
Ahmaud Arbery, only 25 years old, was murdered on Feb. 23 by a white father and son while he was out for a jog in Brunswick, Georgia. According to the autopsy, Arbery was shot three times, twice in the chest. Thirteen gunshot pellets left his back.
They followed him throughout his jog and then confronted Arbery. Gregory and Travis McMichael were arrested on May 7 by agents from the Georgia Bureau of Investigations and are facing felony murder and aggravated assault charges.
The men were arrested over two months after the murder, following the May 5 release of a disturbing video of them shooting Arbery that was put on social media.
The McMichaels thought Arbery was a burglary suspect. Just like George Zimmerman thought Trayvon Martin was “up to no good.” Just like the police thought a 12-year-old Tamir Rice was a threat with a toy airsoft gun. Just like the police still thought Eric Garner was a threat after mumbling “I can’t breathe” while in a chokehold by a police officer. Just like the police thought Stephon Clarke’s phone was a gun.
All it takes is a thought. A thought derived from a cloud of racist beliefs that turns into deadly actions. Thoughts that are deeply rooted in white supremacy and hateful hearts. These assumptions are deadly.
The fact that a mere assumption has been enough to prevent proper justice is sickening.
The assumptions are perpetuated by a lack of justice and a system that simply does not change. White supremacists will continue to think they can get away with killing a black man simply because he is black as long as they can make up an excuse that validates why they would take an innocent life.
The system was not made to protect black people, and it has been proven time and time again. But the fight must continue. We must never give up on the fight to justice.
At times it seems impossible for a system to serve those it was never meant to protect. But that does not mean we should settle and continue to be numb to the deeply disturbing actions of white supremacists. The lives of future generations depend on it.
Because my son will not be a martyr for a war he didn’t ask for.
Jaclyn Ferguson (she/her) is a rising junior studying journalism and African American studies. She is the secretary of the National Association of Black Journalists at IU.