Smith Says

SMITH: Slaying was a hate crime, plain and simple

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I have a weird little hobby I’ve never mentioned. I LOVE to snoop around new construction.

I come by it honestly: Back in the day, my father liked to check out buildings under construction. On Sunday drives he’d perk up when he spotted a half-framed house.

He’d get out of his restored 1936 Chevy coupe and pace off the floor plan, inhale the crisp smell of fresh-cut boards and inspect the drywall and plumbing.

Dad helped his father build the house he grew up in, and he and Mom had built the house we lived in. Checking out the half-built homes of strangers was an innocent pleasure in a more innocent time.

Dad would provide a running commentary for us kids, perched happily on the hood of the car: “Whooooee, it’s a mansion—who needs 1,500 square feet?” and “They could use another window in the kitchen.”

Never will I forget the day he rushed home to tell my mother, as if he’d stumbled up a box of gold bars, “Sarah! There’s a house out at Nine Mile with TWO BATHROOMS!!!” (We had one, for six people.)

I say all that to say, some apples don’t fall far.

As a former road runner (now walker), I’m been all over Dorchester and Colleton counties. I’ve stopped to check out plenty of new construction. I’ve walked around framed-in houses, peeked through windows, and may or may not have slipped into a few unlocked model homes.

I know full well I have no business being there, but I’ve always figured the worst result would be a foreman saying, “Hey, come out of there.” That’s never happened, by the way.

As a white woman, it’s never occurred to me that I might be pursued by armed men, shot repeatedly and left to die in the street, because someone saw me walk into an unfinished house.

I know, and you know, that won’t happen. I am white. I am female. I am small. Society doesn’t consider me a threat.

Ahmaud Arbery’s mother knows a different society, one in which an unarmed, popular, talented former high school football player can die in broad daylight because he’s a black man running through a white neighborhood.

Was he jogging? Was he running from or to something? I don’t know. What we do know is that Gregory McMichael, 64, and his son Travis, 34, told police they chased Ahmaud in a pickup because they thought he was a burglary suspect. Minutes later, after allegedly being shot by Travis McMichael, Ahmaud was dead.

My brother T-Bob called me when he saw the video. “I can’t believe this,” he said.

I thought of the Walter Scott video, which showed Scott being shot in the back as he fled from a Charleston police officer. (The officer eventually accepted a plea deal and a sentence of 20 years.)

“I can believe it,” I said.

(BTW, I’ve trotted through black communities countless times. Did some folks stand on the porch and side-eye me as I puffed along? Yep. Did I think I was in danger for being white in a predominantly black area? Not for a second.)

If Ahmaud died because of his race, his killers could face harsher sentences under Georgia’s hate crime statute. Just kidding, Georgia doesn’t have one. Neither does South Carolina, Wyoming or Arkansas.

Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr says he’s asked the Department of Justice to investigate the handling of the case.

Georgia, the world is watching you. Do the right thing.

Julie R. Smith can be reached at