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NASW Georgia Chapter offers sympathies to family of Ahmaud Arbery

ATLANTA, GA -- The National Association of Social Workers Georgia Chapter (NASW-GA) offers condolences to the family and friends of slain African American Ahmaud Arbery and urges social workers to take strong but peaceful action – including urging lawmakers to enact a state hate law to ensure that African American people and all people in Georgia and around the nation are treated fairly by our criminal justice system.

On February 23, 2020, Mr. Arbery, 25, jogging near his neighborhood in South Georgia was chased and gunned down by Gregory McMichael, 64, a former police officer, and his son Travis McMichael, 34, because they believed him to be a suspect in a series of neighborhood break-ins. Gregory and Travis McMichael had indicated they were trying to make a citizen’s arrest when they confronted Arbery. Three months later, they were both arrested and jailed. According to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, Gregory and Travis McMichael are facing charges of felony murder and aggravated assault.

As conferred by news reports, justice was prolonged and evaded because two District Attorneys, Jackie Johnson, and George Barnhill, who cited close affiliations to Gregory McMichael, recused themselves. This thwarted a thorough and transparent investigation into what happened to Mr. Arbery. What is truly disturbing about this senseless killing is that both Gregory and Travis McMichael were arrested only after the release of a horrific video showing Mr. Arbery‘s homicide and a massive public outcry for justice and accountability. No human being should have their life taken and not receive justice.

Yet, time and time again, Black communities face the highest rates of state-sanctioned violence -- whether it’s police killings, police brutality, stop and frisk, and mass incarceration. Ahmaud Arbery’s death is just another disturbing example of a society that marks blackness as inherently dangerous.

In times of danger, Black people are more likely to be seen as inhuman and instigators or perpetrators of crime rather than people in need of help. In the article, Lucy McBath relives her own grief in the wake of the Ahmaud Arbery shooting, Lucy McBath, who became a congresswoman of Georgia’s 6th congressional district after her son Jordan Davis, 17, was shot and killed following a loud music complaint in 2012, said, “There's a long road ahead for the Arbery family. It took two and a half years for her family to get a conviction, and she believes this is just the beginning of the case.”

“It's worth the time and effort to get justice and political change,” McBath said. "The terrible thing about it is that there are millions of black and brown families that continue to just live in fear each and every day about the fact that they believe their children might not come back from school or they can't jog in neighborhoods they live in, or they can't buy Skittles and soda pop at the grocery store, or they can't even play loud music."

The Ahmaud Arbery case once again opens the door for a much-needed conversation in America about how society values African American lives. We are grapping with the unyielding negative imposed stereotypes that too often lead to their deaths, to unequal treatment, and to justice being denied when they are victims. These stereotypes undoubtedly played a significant role in the tragic outcome for Ahmaud Arbery and his family.

Social workers are charged to challenge social injustice and pursue social change, with and on behalf of vulnerable and oppressed individuals and communities. Our social change efforts are focused primarily on issues of poverty, unemployment, discrimination, and other forms of social injustice. These activities seek to promote sensitivity to and knowledge about oppression and cultural and ethnic diversity. Social workers strive to ensure access to needed information, services, and resources; equality of opportunity; and meaningful participation in decision making for all people.

NASW and members of the social work profession are committed to peacefully addressing social problems and injustice. Additionally, NASW and social workers encourage respect for social and cultural diversity in the United States and abroad. Consequently, in response to the violent and unwarranted killing of Ahmaud Arbery and the delayed justice inquiry received by his family, NASW-GA calls social workers to take the following actions:

Locate your Georgia state representative

1. Ask your state representative to support the enactment of sensible gun laws.
2. Ask your state representative to support the call for a provision eliminating the state’s citizen’s arrest law. (9 2010 Georgia Code Title 17 – Criminal Procedure Chapter 4 – Arrest of a Person; Article 4 Arrest of a Private Person O.C.G.A. 17-4-60 (2010): A private person may arrest an offender if the offense is committed in his presence or within his immediate knowledge. If the offense is a felony, and the offender is escaping or attempting to escape, a private person may arrest him upon reasonable and probable grounds of suspicion.
3. Ask your state representative to support the enactment of a Georgia Hate Crime Bill (Georgia is one of four states without a hate crime law. The state House passed a bill imposing tougher penalties for hate crimes in 2019. But the Senate version never made it out of committee.)
4. If you are comfortable and choose to take further action, you can sign the NAACP Petition demanding justice for Arbery.

Together we are resilient and resourceful; we impact change. Despite this recent tragedy, NASW-GA remains hopeful that our culturally rich and diverse state and country will come together to take action that will put an end to these senseless acts of violence.

In unity, NASW-GA.

The National Association of Social Workers (NASW), in Washington, DC, is the largest membership organization of professional social workers. It promotes, develops, and protects the practice of social work and social workers. NASW also seeks to enhance the well-being of individuals, families, and communities through its advocacy.