June 9, 2023

As I sit here scrolling through the pages of my various social media feeds, I can’t help but to feel the sadness and anger associated with Black life in America. Although technically free, we are boxed in and beat down by the social and economic constraints of a system designed to rob us of our very essence. A system designed to rob us of our souls. Our blackness. Our right to just fucking be.

We all have heard the stories. We all have seen the footage. We all have bore witness to the senseless murders of innocent Black men and women at the hands of monsters. And these monsters have authored more hashtags than I care to count or recount.

Now back to my social media….

By now pretty much all of us have seen the brutal murder of Ahmaud Arbery being hunted down and murdered by a father and son duo for no real reason. According to the police report, the assailants grabbed two guns and followed Ahmaud as he was minding his own business just running.

Their actions, were committed under the guise of Ahmaud being suspected of what we now know is a made up string of break ins. The details of the aftermath are just as disturbing as the murder itself. The depravity of the two suspects is one-upped by the sheer callousness and coldness of those who are in charge of bringing justice for his family.

The day of his murder, Ahmaud’s mother was told by a police investigator, a former colleague of the suspects, that her son had been involved in a burglary and was killed by “the homeowner.” This was a bold faced lie and said with absolutely no substantive evidence to back it up.

In true to form American justice system standards, Ahmaud’s family had been denied the due process and opportunity for justice that they deserved. In the course of two months following his murder, they saw three different district attorneys fail them miserably. As someone who is supposed to fight for the victim’s advocacy, they were doing the exact opposite.

According to Glynn County Commissioner, Pete Murphy, District Attorney Jackie Johnson, on the day of the shooting, blocked a GCPD investigator from arresting the father and son. Coincidencentally, the father was a former district attorney investigator who once worked for her. She later recused herself.

Jackie Johnson_thumb
District Attorney Jackie Johnson

After she stepped aside, District Attorney George Barnhill was assigned the case, a case he should have never taken due to his own conflict of interest. It was found that his son is a prosecutor in the Brunswick District Attorney’s office where the suspected father worked as an investigator.

After recusing himself, Barnhill exacerbated an already terrible situation by injecting his personal feelings and opinions on whether the arrests shouldn’t have happened or not. In a detailed letter he issued exonerating the perpetrators , he took actions that he knew could possibly compromise the outcome of the case by possibly influencing jurors and making the job of the next prosecutor even harder than it already is. Barnhill also told detectives on February 24 that the act was justifiable homicide before he received the autopsy report on Ahmaud’s death. Meanwhile the Georgia Bureau of Investigation determined in two days that there was enough evidence to charge the father son duo and make an arrest.

District Attorney George Barnhill

The third district attorney involved, Tom Durden, was replaced after lawyers for Ahmaud’s family demanded that he be removed due to the fact that he too sat on the case with no real action taken. That is, until the video was released, through a leak, to the public. He was brought in on April 14 and didn’t release a statement until May 5th, the same day the video was released, stating that the case should be presented to a grand jury for consideration of criminal charges.

Currently, the state of Georgia has prohibited grand juries or trial juries until after June 12. So basically even more inaction by the district attorneys office. But again, within two days of getting involved, the GBI made an arrest and charged the suspects with murder.

District Attorney Tom Durden

In his decision to replace Durden, State Attorney General Chris Carr said, “I appreciate District Attorney Tom Durden’s involvement in the Ahmaud Arbery case. This case has grown in size and magnitude since he accepted the appointment on April 13, 2020, and as an experienced District Attorney, Tom has recognized that another office is better suited from a resource perspective to now handle the case. As a result he has requested our office to appoint another District Attorney.”

This case has now been assigned its fourth prosecutor change and it comes on the heels of Carr formally asking the US Department of Justice to conduct an investigation into how Ahmaud’s death was handled by Johnson and Barnhill. The fact that it had to escalated to this level is both sad and indicative of a corrupt justice system. This case is not just pointing out the wrongness of this small Georgia town where Black folks don’t receive a fair go, it is an indictment on the entire system that we have always known.

So where do we go from here? What recourse do we really have? Marching, protesting and praying have only gained marginal success for us marginalized people. Since the beginning we have questioned every aspect of the good old boy justice plan at play. This case has been a masterclass in the art of racist and prejudicial justice that is prevalent in every state on every single level. As I was reading about and watching this case unfold, one question that always seemed to surface was “As Black folks, how do we change this?”

The more I thought about this, the more I thought about a story I read about the Georgia city of South Fulton. And it was then that I realized that that city is the blueprint that we need to adopt and improve upon in order for us to get closer to the equity, not equality, that we so deserve. You see, the city of South Fulton has taken the justice system and broke it down to the studs. They are setting the bar for the way law, order, and justice should and can work. Georgia’s fifth largest city is breaking the status quo barriers in America. In 2018, it became the first city in American history where every head of a criminal justice department is Black. Every. Single. One. Not only that, THEY ARE ALL WOMEN.

(Photo: Reginald Duncan / The Atlanta Voice)

From Chief Judge Tiffany Carter Sellers down to Court Clerk Kerry Stephens, this city has put together a map for other cities and townships to follow that could forever change the tortured relationship between the white centered justice systems and Black America.

This city has shown the importance of the Black vote, and when used correctly, how powerful it can be. Especially in state and local elections. The mayor is Black. The seven member city council is Black. And all of them have an intimate understanding of the challenges we face and the injustices we have endured in this country. Back in November Black With No Chaser went to Atlanta to cover the Democratic debate. While there, I had a chance to sit down and conduct an interview with Khalid Kamau, District 6 Councilman of South Fulton. During our talk, he explained to me some of the forward thinking initiatives and undertakings of the city that was aimed at not just the financial progression of Black folks, but also aimed at the overall care and rehabilitation of us as well.

Tyrus Kennedy Talks with Councilman Khalid Kamau about South Fulton's 100% Black Justice System

Looking at the Arbery case and the cruel and unjust way his name and his family have been handled, it is quite obvious that a complete overhaul of the system is well past due. South Fulton has given us the blueprint to get to where we need to be. All we got to do now is rid ourselves of the tensions and rivalries within our ranks while focusing on fighting the brutality and persistence of white supremacy one small city or town at a time. The reality is, it may not stop the next killing of this type, but it will damn sure get the justice and equity that Black folks have never been fully able to receive.

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