Lee Merritt, the civil rights attorney representing Ahmaud Arbery’s family, spoke with ESSENCE executive producer Kirsten West Savali about the 25-year-old Black man gunned down by white supremacists while he was out jogging in Brunswick, Georgia, on February 23.
In addition to sharing how communities can best support Arbery’s family at this time and the latest details of the case, Merritt addressed the passionate debate that people are having around the efficacy of and motive behind showing videos of white supremacists and police officers killing Black people with impunity.
While the growing consensus is that these videos are trauma porn, it wasn’t always this way. Entire movements have been launched since camera phones began being utilized as self-defense weapons against state violence.
But how much is too much? Are these videos still useful?
Merritt, who has represented families in a number of high profile police brutality cases, says yes.
“You know, I wish the people who said that we don’t need to see these images committed themselves to creating a society where these images don’t exist,” Merritt tells ESSENCE. “As long as these images exist, we have to see them. And we have to do everything within our power to ensure that we live in a culture where these things aren’t so common.
“I spoke to major networks about the atrocity [of Ahmaud’s death], they weren’t interested,” Merritt continued. “I spoke to politicians and people at the DOJ [Department of Justice] about coming in and investigating this case; they had no interest in that. But this video, as tragic as it is, as difficult as it is for this family to see go viral—especially his mom who can’t even watch it—it hurts. And it should hurt. But it’s a necessary evil for justice.”
Just hours after ESSENCE’s conversation with Merritt on Thursday, Ahmaud Arbery’s killers, Gregory McMichael, 64, who was previously an investigator in the Brunswick district attorney’s office, and his son, Travis McMichael, 34, were arrested and booked into the Glynn County Jail on charges of felony murder and aggravated assault.
Watch the entire interview with Attorney Lee Merritt above.