Rev. Scott's Letter May 11
Delivered By
Rev. Tom Scott
Delivered On
May 11, 2020
Attached Document


May 11

Three topics today. The first is the killing of Ahmaud Arbery by a father and son, a significant part of which was captured on a cell phone by a friend of the two men.

The second subject is Mother’s Day. I recommend reading about its origin.

The third is the gospel reading for Easter Five.  I’m saving that for tomorrow.


The salient fact in the shooting, for me, is that Ahmaud Arbery was gunned down by white vigilantes for jogging while being black.  No other fact in the immediate situation plays so large a role. Leave aside all the dust being raised by stories of intruders on construction sites, claims of Arbery resisting “citizen’s arrest“ being performed by a father and son, and all the other bushwah being tossed about in an effort to obscure the bald facts as presented by the shooters themselves and the phone video.

The father (identified as a former police officer) saw a black man jog by his house. He called to his son, they got armed and went after Arbery in a pick-up truck. A friend got involved somehow and followed along making a recording. This recording he later produced with the idea that it would exonerate the father and son. Arbery in the video is unaware of what was coming for him. He kept jogging and was set upon from the pick-up truck, first shot and wounded, then shot fatally when he attempted to grapple with the shooter.  All of this was for no good reason. No crime was committed, no offence was unfolding, there was no “hot pursuit” of someone fleeing a crime scene, no verbal altercation occurred.

But something was there in the moment, a thing that added something to the atmosphere. It was in the mood and attitude of the father and son looking at Arbery with a presumption of suspicion (not to say hostility), of being ready for something to “happen” that they could respond to and claim justification for.  In other words, this situation was ripe for trouble.

In theatre, there’s a thing called “Chekov’s gun”, (the phrase refers to the writing rule that you use what you introduce and what you introduce you use). The father and son were ready for something, “ready” for trouble to come to them, (they were able to assemble their guns, ammo, truck, and pursuit very quickly, “vigilante minute men”), and by gum, something happened for which they were ready.

You may remember a 1984 incident on a New York subway. Bernard Goetz, white, shot four black teenage boys when he felt threatened by them on the train, although there had not been an overt threat or crime. He had had a bad, violent encounter with a group at some previous point, and the subway was generally regarded as not very safe. He owned a gun, carried it that day illegally, was mentally prepared to do violence if the moment arose. Hold that sense of “preparedness” in mind, because that’s the “Chekov’s gun” here. 

The jury believed Goetz at trial when he said he was afraid of the four teens, given his past experience with being ganged up on.  I know that feeling Goetz was dealing with.  I’ve been in Bernie’s shoes myself in an alley, outnumbered and no way out.  It’s try not to die time. I sympathized with him a bit when he began to tell his story—until he told the interrogator about his last shot. 

Goetz observed one of the boys lying on the subway car floor—all of the boys were wounded already—Goetz said to him, “You look like you’re doing alright.  Here’s another”, and shot him again.  That took it way past over the top for me. Goetz shot him in the back, severed his spinal column, resulting in brain damage. Goetz said himself that the boy had not hassled him, nor spoken to him, nor interacted with him at all. He was just there, in the group. Only one of the boys had addressed him, asking for handout, if memory serves, but I know what the mood and feeling are in that moment of being cornered and outnumbered. Goetz knew he was in trouble, to all appearances.  But then, he turned the tables on his “tormentors”. I imagine a kind of “hot joy“ coursed through him.  I think in that moment of the last shot Goetz was feeling pumped up and giddy with that mad payback vengefulness that comes in such moments—show them! Get them!  Shoot, stomp, kill the bastards, fix ALL their little red wagons!   It’s clobbering time, and Oh, God, it just feels so good to DO it and not receive it for once.

Understandable, but unacceptable. His last shot was vicious and gratuitous, a separate deliberate act that should have gotten him serious jail time.

Goetz got a lot of sympathetic support initially—from both black and white people, even one boy’s mother!—there was the perception that the boys started it and got a snootful in return;  too much perhaps, over the top, but an understandable reaction on Goetz’s part. He was minding his own business and trouble came calling. Too bad for trouble, it met mayhem.

I mention Goetz because for all the differences between the subway shootings and the Arbery case, one thing seems to leap out in both of them: race.  Being black is a key fact.  Why?  It is at least in part because the racist ideas and concepts in our social “atmosphere” have been inhaled and taken into the hearts and minds of us all. Our social structures and institutions have been permeated by it. Back/white encounters are just not the same as black/black situations or white/white ones.

One message we’ve gotten is black males are a special kind of trouble, look out.  We white folks may not feel or act unjustly or even unkindly toward people of color in our personal lives and circumstances, but we are enmeshed in a socio-economic system that has been built with racism in its fiber.  And remember, black males are a special kind of trouble.

Some people are inclined to act on racist ideas with a kind of violence that is impulsively reactive. Racism is not premeditated in the usual sense, it is not so rational. Remember, black males are a special kind of trouble.

What ever happens to the white father and son, the fact is, another young, unarmed, black man has been killed for no good reason, whatever the white men “believed”. The issue now is what will be done about it in that location and in the hearts of the rest of us. And remember, black men are a special kind of trouble.

Perhaps the best way to make my point is by talking about another crime: rape.

When my sisters and I were growing up, everyone knew that rape happened, and everyone knew that somehow, it was “the girl’s fault” when it happened. Where were you, what were you doing, what did you say, how were you dressed, what time was it, were you drinking—in other words, how did you make it happen, invite it to happen, get stupid and let it happen?  And every girl got “the talk” about the dangers and warnings.  Don’t be “fast“, provocative, or careless.

We also learned to think across a spectrum from “what else should she have expected to she deserved it for acting, being, looking some way or another“, when someone was raped—and there was speculation in whispers about how she “brought it on”.  Perhaps this was not your upbringing or you don’t think it was, but you know it was a real social thought system that we were part of and influenced by. 

Sadly, girls still get “the talk”, and need to because bad things happen, but the atmosphere around rape has changed a bit, though there’s a long way to go.

We have learned  to think about rape as a crime of violence, usually by men against women, and we understand that there is no justified provocation for it.  That is, you can’t just say she wore this, she said that, she did something “provocative”, or she “deserved it”, and have that get you a pass. You can't blame the victim so easily any more.Those notions are rightly regarded as self-justifying baloney, not a defense or an explanation. You just can’t go around raping women (or anyone). It is not a debate.  Now, what constitutes the particulars of a sexual assault and how you weigh those actions is a matter to adjudicate in court, but that proceeds from the flat declaration that you can’t rape. Period. Full stop. Yes, I am well aware of the continuing inequities and prejudices around rape cases, but it is an open fight now, not a set of unquestioned assumptions about women, men, and violence.

You can’t say, “I thought this woman resembled a woman I heard was being provocative and promiscuous a couple of blocks from here, so I decided to pursue her, and when she resisted me I had to rape her.” That’s nonsense.

But isn’t this essentially what the father and son team said and did with Ahmaud Arbery?

“I heard some rumor about someone trespassing on a construction site. Arbery came along, the sight of him provoked and triggered me, I chased him, struggled with him, and when I tried to “arrest” him, he resisted, so I killed him, and he got what was coming to him.  It was his fault, he made us do it.” The line of argument sounds like the now unacceptable rape defense, doesn’t it? It is nonsense.

If that woman been modest and quiet and not been dressed as she was, and if she’d been compliant, if she hadn’t made me chase her down, I would not have had to rape her. It was Arbery’s fault for not stopping and obeying us. He made us kill him.  Do you see any difference? I don’t.

Think about what happened. Mr Arbery is seen just jogging by. So what? If you’re concerned about him somehow (your “cop sense” gets stirred), call your buddies on the police force; maybe you even jog along following him at a good distance behind so as not to give concern. All that makes at least marginal sense, maybe it even sounds community minded in some way.

But grab your guns and chase him in a truck? You’re in pursuit of a lynching as sure as God made little green apples.


Mother’s Day: originally it was an international effort to unite the grieving mothers of Europe and America following the American Civil War and the Franco-Prussian War, promoted by the internationalist aspirations and values of Anna Jarvis and Julia Ward Howe. The transformation into a “Hallmark holiday” has taken more than a century. I prefer to view the day as an opportunity to think about the grief of mothers—of any nation, people, or cause—and to give thanks for all those women who have nurtured me, mothered me over the years, regardless of the details of our connection

  April 2021  
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