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When the news of the conviction of the killers of Ahmaud Arbery came I was checking my phone for text messages.
We were driving east for a Thanksgiving with some of our family and were half way through the state of Pennsylvania in Bedford County.
Rural central Pennsylvania where Bedford is located is one of the poorest, whitest, Republican counties in the state.
Driving Interstate 76, the Pennsylvania Turnpike, we would pass Bedford towns that were not much more than shanty towns, no different than the homeless encampments under any Chicago expressway.
And lots of Trump signs.
Trump won over 80% of the vote in Bedford.
In one Bedford school district over 55% of the students live in poverty.
While the birth rate has dropped in Bedford over the past couple of decades, two thirds of the births are by teenagers.
In late August 2020, Frank Nitty and a group of Black and white civil rights activists were marching from Milwaukee to Washington D.C. and had stopped along the highway in Bedford.
It had been a tough journey by Nitty and his Milwaukee group whose goal was to join a national rally in Washington called by Reverend Al Sharpton and others to protest racist violence.
In Indiana police barred access to gas stations for fuel or restroom breaks.
In Ohio, people driving by threw food at them.
But things turned real bad in Bedford.
Gun shots rang out.
You may remember the incident although the story made the national news for only a day.
Pennsylvania State Police initially said a confrontation between locals and the marchers resulted in the gun fire.
But, as in the case of Ahmaud Arbery, video of the events showed the shooting was all from locals and unprovoked.
The marchers contend state police have, at every turn, attempted to place at least some of the blame for what instigated the shooting on them. In another video taken after a news conference the day after the shooting, and reviewed by the news organizations, the marchers directly disputed the characterization of an “argument” with a state police detective, who then agreed that the “argument did not happen.”
“It was clear that we didn’t start anything,” said Leena Le, 20, one of the marchers. “It upset me that they twisted the story.”
But the narrative that the marchers were somehow at fault took hold. Fueled by social media posts that parroted — and then embellished — the state police’s version of events, white vigilantes wielding guns descended upon their town squares in Bedford Borough and McConnellsburg, sure that they needed to protect their small towns from “Antifa.”
As a result, the marchers faced continued threats in the days that followed, including being threatened with a gunshot a second time, and having to walk on roads chalked with messages such as “n—s suck,” “pick cotton,” and “go home.”
“There’s no way to mentally prepare someone to being called ‘n—’,” Nitty said, adding that getting him and his team through to the Maryland border required “resilience and prayer.”
Fortunately nobody was killed.
But nobody has been charged with the shooting.
The rest of our trip to Thanksgiving and family was filled with thoughts of the trial of the killers of Ahmaud Arbery.
How glad we were that the killers were held to account.
How rare an event it was.
How elusive justice for white racist violence is in this country.
In a county as poor and white as Bedford, racism perseveres and Trump gets 80% of the vote.
We were not in rural Georgia. We were in rural Pennsylvania.