Opinion: The task of tearing down barriers to racial equality remains unfinished so long as there are corners of society where an Ahmaud Arbery can be killed.
The NAACP defines lynching as "the public killing of an individual who has not received any due process ... acts that white people used to terrorize and control Black people in the 19th and 20th centuries, particularly in the South."
That remains shamefully true in this second decade of the 21st century.
Three white men who carried out the shotgun killing of a Black jogger in Georgia last year were convicted by a jury of murder. But let's not kid ourselves. The death of 25-year-old Ahmaud Arbery bore the savage traits of a lynching.
"They made their decision to attack Ahmaud Arbery ... because he was a Black man running down the street," prosecutor Linda Dunikoski said of the defendants during closing arguments Monday.
There were shockingly few degrees of separation between the killing of Arbery and one of the most horrifying lynchings in American history: the death of 14-year-old Emmett Till in the Jim Crow-era Mississippi of 1955.
Emmett had the temerity, as a young Black teenager, to flirt with a 21-year-old white woman (an accusation time has since shown might never have actually happened) and was later tortured and killed for it.
Arbery had the temerity to jog through the mostly white neighborhood of Satilla Shores near Brunswick, Georgia, where former police officer Greg McMichael, his son Travis and neighbor William "Roddie" Bryan assumed Arbery must be guilty of something. So they chased him with guns and pickups.
They used their vehicles to try to cut him off. "Stop or I'll blow your f------ head off," the elder McMichael shouted, according to police. They pulled ahead, and Travis McMichael stepped out pointing a 12-gauge shotgun. Greg McMichael would later tell police they had Arbery "trapped like a rat."
Arbery, a trade school student studying to be an electrician, had tried unsuccessfully to dodge them. But when Travis McMichael confronted him with the gun, there was a struggle for the weapon. Arbery was shot twice, once through the chest. A cellphone video by Bryan shows Arbery finally breaking away and stumbling a few steps before collapsing in the street.
Bryan would later tell police – though the judge said it was too inflammatory for the jury to hear – that Travis McMichael blurted out a racial slur as Arbery lay dying.
The jury rejected the defendants' claim that they were making a citizen's arrest based on the men's assumptions Arbery had committed thefts, crimes for which they had no evidence and for which there would never be any evidence.
But lynching, by definition, requires no evidence. No due process.
One of the awful "unbroken links" between America's racist past and present is – as civil rights lawyer Bryan Stevenson writes in the new book "The 1619 Project: A New Origin Story" – that "Black people still bear the burden of presumptive guilt."
Arbery's death was only the most extreme and tragic of examples. There is a legion of lesser presumptions made all the time in America.
A white woman calls police to say a Black man is threatening her in Central Park, when all he did was ask her to follow the law and leash her dog. Miami officers handcuff a Black doctor they suspect is acting suspiciously when, in fact, he's helping the homeless. Police are summoned to Yale University by a white student concerned because a Black person – who turns out to be a fellow student – is napping in a common area of a dormitory.
For all the progress the nation has made in tearing down barriers to racial equality, up to and including the election of a Black man as president, the task remains unfinished so long as there are corners of society where an Ahmaud Arbery can die.
And for no other reason than because of the color of his skin.
USA TODAY's editorial opinions are decided by its Editorial Board, separate from the news staff and the USA TODAY Network. Most editorials are coupled with an Opposing View, a unique USA TODAY feature.
This article originally appeared on Wichita Falls Times Record News: Ahmaud Arbery was murdered or, more accurately, lynched