What began as a holiday season of community celebration in Philadelphia ended with a fearful threat from the city’s first elected black mayor.
In what some saw as a string of racially motivated vigilante killings by rich white men — two Black Lives Matter activists were shot and killed last year after Thanksgiving, a third last summer after assaulting a police officer — the deaths of two African-American men in separate confrontations with police officers in Philadelphia last week further polarized the city.
Earlier this month, police announced the findings of a grand jury, which determined that Armonda Colon, a 45-year-old West Philadelphia woman, had acted in self-defense when she shot and killed Michael David Arbery during a dispute over throwing trash into a cesspool in June. The boyfriend of another woman Arbery had fought with — and who lived in the same house — had killed her. They had a history of infighting, and it became clear through an extensive court investigation that Arbery, a 28-year-old father, had died after being struck by a police officer’s gun.
The union representing Philadelphia police, the Fraternal Order of Police, and Mayor Jim Kenney have each predicted that justice will eventually be served in both the Arbery and Colon cases, even if that might not be immediately.
“We live in a community where people have to deal with one another. These are complex issues,” Police Commissioner Richard Ross said in November, when Arbery’s body was still in the woods nearby the house where she had been shot, officials said. “It’s easier for a police officer to allow this to go on without being hurt.”
But, six months later, neither Arbery nor Colon has been formally charged or named in connection with either killing. Neither have entered pleas, and their names were not mentioned during the court proceedings where the grand jury announced its decision last week.
Police say the alleged incident in which Arbery was killed was born of a petty dispute over recycling. In its findings of the proceedings, the grand jury also pointed to Arbery’s “lack of cooperation” with the investigation. Arbery’s parents and girlfriend have all said that he did not initiate the fight that led to his death.
Sheretha Duncan, who lived in the home at the time of the shooting, says she cannot understand why she, a woman who has raised her own children, would be targeted by the police because of her race.
“You shouldn’t have to live under a cloud,” she said through tears at the time. “I just don’t understand. It makes me very confused.”
The same week that Arbery was shot, Robert Robinson, 47, who was Black, was fatally shot at close range in the South Philadelphia neighborhood he grew up in. He also was no more likely to have provoked the police officer who shot him than Arbery had, his family said.
Both Robinson and Colon had histories of domestic violence and had what the grand jury called “unfortunate interactions” with the police in the past.
Arbery’s family said they were considering filing a civil lawsuit.
“When you put people in the crosshairs, there’s no forgiveness, there’s no closure,” said David Arbery Jr., the eldest son. “Every day, my dad is reminded of how he was hunted down, and, if there is no justice, how he can bring another black family to tears.”
Photos taken at the two shootings have caused additional grief for Arbery’s family.
“Because people recognize you are connected to the Black Lives Matter movement and when you are, it is disrespectful, and it is hurtful to us and to the community,” the father said. “Any person who sees my picture should never know me, because of that picture, they will have no thought of who I am.”
Arbery, who lived alone in a home where he raised six children, was a fixture at his neighborhood barbershop.
“He was loved by his kids,” the father said. “He was loved by his mother. My brother showed up today to go see him. That’s why we were here. We were here to say goodbye.”
Robinson’s wife has made similar remarks about her late husband.
“He was a good man,