By Janis Ware
The Atlanta Voice
There’s a major motion picture that debuted in February 2008, titled Vantage Point. It involves several different views of an assassination and does a good job of explaining how different people can all see the same thing happen, but depending on where they saw it, describe it in various ways. This film came to mind while thinking about the upcoming trial of the three men responsible for the murder of Ahmaud Arbery on February 23, 2020. Travis McMichael, his father Gregory McMichael and neighbor William Bryan, Jr. have all pled not guilty in a court of law. All three men have different vantage points of the shooting death of Arbery, who’s only crime was jogging in a neighborhood, Satilla Shores, in unincorporated Glynn County while Black. What one saw as an afternoon jog on a sunny day, others, the McMichals and Bryan, saw as a danger to society. Vantage points differed, and now a young man is dead, and three men are on trial.
What the McMichaels, Bryan, their lawyers, families, friends and supporters see is very different from what Arbery’s family, lawyers and supporters see. The vantage points continue to be drastically different. Monday, October 25, the jury pool grew by eight to half of the 64 jurors needed in order for both the defense and prosecution to start striking numbers from the pool in order to find 12 for the trial. The vantage points of the people that will ultimately decide whether there is a guilty or not guilty verdict at the end of what looks like it will be a very long trial, will most certainly be different.
One would have to be living under the largest rock on the planet to not have heard about Arbery’s murder and the subsequent unrest in the city of Brunswick and greater Glynn County, population 85, 292, the majority of which is white. Brunswick, however, the county seat, is majority Black, with more than 55% of the population more than likely having a vantage point similar to Arbery’s parents Marcus Arbery, Sr., and Wanda Cooper-Jones. A portion of the jury will come from their street, church, grocery store, walking path, gym, job. What will they be thinking of the men on trial? Will their vantage points be fair and balanced? Will it even matter?
I ask these questions because the time has long passed for America to have a semi-similar vantage point of what is right and wrong about how to treat her citizens. One of the defense attorneys has said in public, in an actual courtroom, that his client was acting out of a citizen’s right to defend private property. Neither of the three men lived near where Travis McMichael shot and killed Ahmaud Arbery. Neither of the trio were active-duty law enforcement or the military. Their vantage point was that they should interfere in Arbery’s jog around a neighborhood.
Websters describes a vantage point as “a place or position affording a good view of something.” Bryan saw the entire murder from the driver’s seat of his pickup truck. He even video recorded it. His vantage point from behind the lens of a cell phone camera may be the one that matters most. The video has long since gone viral and leaves us awaiting a jury and then the start of one of the state of Georgia’s most important Civil Rights trials. There have been several reports from Brunswick that store owners are already boarding their windows in anticipation of the trial’s end, even before it has started. What is their view of this case? From what vantage point have they seen this case?
The vantage points of the 12 people in the jury box, the families on both sides of the courtroom, the judge on the bench and the members of the media will all be different too.
The fictional Vantage Point ends with the hero, played by Dennis Quad, saving the life of the nearly assassinated President Harry Ashton, played by William Hurt. How this trial ends remains to be seen. Sort of like a vantage point, it depends on who’s watching.
Janis Ware is the publisher of The Atlanta Voice.