This blog is about a public health issue. It is about an environmental justice issue, a climate justice issue, a criminal justice issue, a social justice issue, and a racial justice issue. I wanted to write this blog about my perspective on the murders of Mr. Ahmaud Arbery two months ago in Georgia and Mr. Dreasjon Reed, who was murdered in Indiana Wednesday–shot 14 times by police.
I initially decided to write from a scientific perspective–as a toxicologist and environmental health scientist. Toxicology is the scientific field designed to help us understand the harmful effects of chemicals, substances or situations on people, animals, and the environment.
A toxin is a poison produced by the body. Toxicants are man-made products, artificial products that are introduced into the environment due to human activity. A poison is something that has a noxious effect on living organisms.
As an environmental toxicologist, I can discuss the actions behind the murder…scientifically. Remember–environment is where we live, work, pray, play and go to school. Racism – the situation where one race feels more superior to another, creates a toxic situation that poisons the environment and, as we have seen repeatedly, is fatal to Black and Brown people.
This toxin, this poison, infects the very soul of those who consider themselves superior, which in turn affects the lives of those they erroneously consider inferior.
It reflects in the way Black and Brown lives are treated as unimportant and is reflected in the eyes of families and friends and even strangers. It is reflected in the way Black mothers have ‘the talk’ with their sons about going outside, running outside, or just standing outside.
The poisoners – let’s call them murderers for lack of a more scientific term–deflect the murders they commit by ridiculous claims of “fearing for their lives,” or on suspicion of guilt, based on race or on just plain anger and hatred. It affects the environment–the climate –in such a way that even going outside for a walk or run or studying in a dormitory room, or having a cookout at the park or…just…breathing can be harmful to one’s health.
Then I thought I would write this from a legal perspective, since I am also a lawyer. Lawyers tend to shy away from situations that could lead to a “slippery slope.” According to Webster, a “slippery slope” refers to a course of action that seems to lead inevitably from one action or result to another with unintended consequences.
However, it seems that the chosen actions–to follow Mr. Arbery in a vehicle (for no apparent reason other than his skin tone), or to chase Mr. Reed and literally shoot him to death–were deliberate. The end results were deliberate, not unintended. No slippery slope there, no confusion.
You do not ‘accidentally’ follow someone with weapons in hand for any other reason than to do serious bodily harm. You do not chase someone and shoot them multiple times unless you intend that they die. But I have said too much. Remember, in the legal world, everyone is considered innocent until proven guilty, right? RIGHT? Wrong.
Mr. Arbery was not given the benefit of that consideration. And neither was Mr. Reed, or the multitude of other men and women I could list here. Once again, the responsible parties–yes, we all know who you are–have not been convicted. Is this where the term “getting away with murder” comes from–unprovoked, unadjudicated attacks on Black people and other people of color?
Finally, I decided to speak from my unique perspective as an African American, a Black person. My immediate and long-term emotions range from rage to outrage to anger and frustration, sadness, worry and fear. My rage stems from the fact that this continues to happen, and NO ONE IS HELD ACCOUNTABLE and NO ONE IS DOING ANYTHING ABOUT IT.
I am outraged that Mr. Arbery was murdered two months ago, and it is just now getting news coverage–because of the video evidence that recently came to light, nobody has been talking about it these past two months and the murderers have been walking around free!
I am outraged that Mr. Reed was gunned down like a rabid dog and shot 14 times! I am angry and frustrated because I could make a list of people who have died at the hands of people who thought themselves ‘better than.’ I am angry because I and every other Black person can tell SO MANY stories of times we were treated as ‘less than,’ disrespected, feared for our lives, or were threatened with bodily harm. Everyday it is something else–from subtle insults to outright hatred–we have seen it all. When does it stop?
My heart aches for Mr. Arbery’s and Mr. Reed’s family and friends, as well as the family and friends of every person who has died because another person took it upon themselves to be judge, jury and executioner–and nothing much happened to them either.
I used to worry about all Black males because they are ALWAYS in danger, their lives considered forfeit for any perceived infraction or insult to someone of another color. But now I also worry about Black women, Indigenous people, particularly women and girls and all who have been victimized by someone who mistakenly thought they were superior to them and that their Black lives did not matter.
I have four brothers, one is deceased. The other three are tall, fairly good-looking, intelligent men, and–although each is a different hue–all are Black. I worry about the men and women, girls, and boys in my family, particularly since several of them lost their lives to violence. I worry about them all the time. I am afraid for them.
I recently sent my youngest brother a mask, gloves and a scarf recommended for use to protect against COVID-19 infection (I have written at length about the challenge that is COVID-19 and the war it is raging in our communities.) I had to consider what color scarf to send him, as he would be wearing it to cover the lower half of his face – an action which could get him killed. I consciously decided that a lighter color would be safer for him – not blue or dark green or maroon or brown – and most certainly not black. My friends tell similar stories…. similar truths, that they must deal with.
I remember a time when I saw police lights and heard sirens, and my greatest concern was whether I would be pulled over and given a ticket, even though I was not speeding, driving recklessly etc. Now, when I see those flashing lights or hear sirens behind me, I taste fear. I always pray that I am not the person they are pulling over. Then I pray that whoever it is makes it out alive.
During this pandemic, we constantly hear people talk about how happy they will be when everything ‘goes back to normal.’ Normal was a death sentence for Black people. We do not want to go back to that.
Environmental injustices are alive and well, in the air we breathe and the water we drink. Contamination from toxicants affects communities of color first and worst. Native American women and girls are missing or murdered. Climate change is a threat multiplier, even moreso for communities of color. COVID-19 is cutting down African Americans at an alarming rate. Who wants to go back to that reality?
An antidote is something that counteracts the effects of a poison. What is the antidote to the poison that is racism and murder? Is it holding people accountable under the law? Stricter laws? Compassion and empathy instead of sympathy?
At the end of all the current insanity, we have a chance to make a better world and create a NEW normal. Remember, our environment is where we live, work, play, pray and go to school. We (all of us!) should be safe in ALL those places–and anywhere else we choose to run, walk, sleep, eat or…just…breathe.
Support from UCS members make work like this possible. Will you join us? Help UCS advance independent science for a healthy environment and a safer world.