Ahmaud Arbery, ‘Stand Your Ground’ Laws, and the Complicity of American Government: In Conversation with Ben Crump

Carla Bell
5 min readMay 12, 2020
Ahmaud Arbery

“American government is either complicit in or responsible for creating this genocidal situation,” said Ben Crump, co-counsel with Lee Merritt for the family of Ahmaud Marquez Arbery.

White-on-black homicide are 250% more likely to be found justified than white-on-white homicides in non “Stand Your Ground” states. This disparity increases by 354% in “Stand Your Ground” states such as Georgia where the unarmed Arbery, 25, was gunned down in the streets during his regular neighborhood run.

Father and son assailants, Gregory McMichael, 64, and Travis McMichael, 34, both white, were arrested on May 7, 2020, more than 10 weeks after giving chase to Arbery, a black man, ultimately killing him in broad daylight in a neighborhood near small coastal Brunswick. We’ve seen this before. For the Arbery family, no matter the outcome, there will be no victory in the end.

“Because of these Jim Crow ‘Stand Your Ground’ Laws, and the sometimes related ‘Castle Doctrine’ Laws, when a white person kills a person of color, there’s not even a guarantee they’ll be arrested,” Crump said. Still, the arrests feel like progress.

Arbery’s story reveals the plain truth: another day and another death in another AmeriKKKa. “It’s unfortunately becoming cliché. Normalized,” Crump said.

Just as details of Arbery’s murder are becoming known to the rest of us, Crump learns of another case — the Indianapolis PD shooting death of black 21-years-old Dreasjon Reed.

“In black and brown communities, the police officer represents what the government is,” Crump said. “They don’t come in contact with other government official. It’s through the actions of law enforcement that government speaks to those communities, saying ‘stay in your place, little black or brown person.’

Reed’s mother called about her son during our call. Crump’s already on the case.

Arbery followed in his father’s footsteps, prioritizing fitness and loving football. Both played on the same Brunswick High team where he graduated in 2012. He would have been 26 on May 8th.

He reminds us of another young black man, Trayvon Martin, 17, whose life was also taken in the streets under the color of SYG Law. “If Trayvon Martin was of age and armed, could he have stood his ground on that sidewalk?” It was an indictment wrapped in a question put forth by President Barack Obama.

The circumstances of death and prosecutorial strategies in the Arbery and Martin cases are eerily similar.

“Both were alleged to have committed some kind of burglary and both were killed, unarmed, in the month of February,” Crump said. Martin, in 2012. The allegations of burglary are untrue in both cases. Martin was walking home with Skittles and iced tea. Arbery was just out getting some exercise. Both young men were minding their business one minute, and running from their killers, the next.

“And the killers were quasi-related to law enforcement,” Crump said. The elder McMichael is a retired police detective affiliated with the district attorney’s office, and Zimmerman was a neighborhood watch captain in the gated Florida community where he shot and killed Trayvon Martin. Also, his father was a magistrate judge. So, because of “alleged conflicts of interest,” Crump said, both cases saw changes in prosecutors. The Georgia Bureau of Investigations has taken over in Arbery. In Martin, the Department of Law Enforcement took over. And in both cases, the arrests took weeks.

Now, Crump notes, there are also important distinguishing factors in the two cases: “In Trayvon, we only hear the pursuit. In Ahmaud, we actually get to witness the pursuit with our own eyes in that horrific video. In Trayvon, we only get to hear the bullet shots. In Ahmaud, we get to hear and see the bullet shots,” Crump explained.


In a conversation last fall, Crump talked about his new book, “Open Season: Legalized Genocide of Colored People”. Reflecting on a then recent milestone, he said “I’m grateful to God that I get to see 50 years old as a black man in America.” His daughter Brooklyn, 6-years-old, says he doesn’t look a day over 49. “She’s what makes me do it. I look at her and I know we gotta fight to give [our kids] a better world.”

He planned early. “In the 4th grade, I determined that I was going to be like Thurgood Marshall and try to make the world better for people who looked like me and people who lived in my community. From that day till this one,” he said, “that’s exactly what I’ve been trying to do.”

Crump is counsel to families of Botham Jean, Stephon Clark, Michael Brown, and many others violently snatched from this world.

“’Open Season’ is about the conspiracy of laws, the police, the prosecutors, and all institutions of governance in America — how they’re used to kill black, brown, and marginalized people.” It’s not a tabulation of black death, he said — it’s an education. Crump feels a sense of responsibility to the masses, to take up the slack where American high school civics hasn’t.

Crump said he and his partners working the case are committed to full due process for Ahmaud Arbery, and detailed transparency for the public throughout. “We don’t trust the local authorities in South Georgia because of their symbiotic relationships with the killers in this case,” he said.

On Monday, May 11, Joyette Holmes, the first black district attorney in Cobb County, Atlanta, Georgia became the fourth prosecutor assigned to the Arbery murder case. Internationally, this case is being closely followed, and many eyes are on Holmes.

“The court system has a way of causing even greater racial battle fatigue than the bullets that are killing us,” Crump says, adding, the laws that are meant to be the last refuge against injustice are themselves discriminatory and unjust.

“What we really want is equal justice under law, like the Constitution of the United States says — not [one] justice for black people, and [another] justice for white people. It’s got to be equal justice.”

Carla Bell is a greater Seattle area freelance writer with bylines at Ebony and Essence magazines; and at The North Star, first established by Frederick Douglass in 1847, and re-established by Shaun King in 2019. Locally, Carla’s work has been published by The Seattle Times, Crosscut, and others.



Carla Bell

Journalist and Editorial Consultant ::bylines:: @Forbes @WHYYThePulse @Essence @EBONYmag Dir MAYDAY:BLACK @mayday_online ::: Black mixed with Black:::