How many Ahmaud Arberys is it going to take, America?

It's a story as old as America itself. A story we've heard so many times we've collectively got it memorized.

Chapter 1: Black man lives his life. White man thinks black man living his life looks suspicious. White man kills black man.

Chapter 2: White killer goes home and lives his life. Black man's family reels and cries for justice. Black man's community reels and cries for justice. Weeks or months pass, until the cries for justice grow long and loud enough that someone in power actually listens.

Chapter 3 is a cliffhanger, every time. Will the white killer be arrested? This time, yes. Will he be convicted? We'll find out in the next chapter—but don't count on it.


Anyone who is shocked by the killing of Ahmaud Arbery—an unarmed young black man shot by two armed white men while jogging through a suburban Georgia neighborhood—has not been paying attention. This is not new. This is not shocking. This is the ongoing history of racism and racial injustice in America.

And it's not just the shooting itself, which appears to be a pretty blatant modern-day lynching. It's the legal system that processes the killing. It's the law enforcement agencies—which the shooter used to work in—charged with investigating it. It's the justice system that will determine whether these men are guilty of murder or if they were justified in killing this young man.

It's also the law itself, such as the "stand your ground" and "citizen arrest" laws in Georgia that will be undoubtedly be used as a defense. Since research has shown that racial minorities are more often perceived as a criminal threat, such laws disproportionately impact people of color.

As civil rights leader Markel Hutchins said, "Fear is, oftentimes, based on one's own bias, so when you have public policy that literally lends itself to people being able to commit crimes or shootings under the color of law, because they're reasonably afraid, it makes a bad public policy and puts the constitutional rights of so many people around the country in jeopardy."

Because law enforcement has traditionally been dominated by white men, white male citizens taking the law into their own hands feels less problematic than it should to many people. The image of white male heroes taking out criminals is baked into our subconscious, and we have such a long history of murder with impunity, seeing black men being killed has become disturbingly normalized. Toss in the infiltration of white supremacists in American law enforcement—yes, really—and we have a richly laid-out background setting for this all-too-familiar story.

It's almost absurd how neatly Ahmaud Arbery's killing follows the expected plotline and leaves us with familiar questions. Why was the encounter filmed in the first place? (That fact alone should give us pause—his murder was filmed, and not by police.) Why did it take two-and-a-half months for these men to be arrested when the police had the crime on video from the get go? Why did it take an enormous national effort of activists pushing for justice for just the very first step toward justice to take place? Why did the case have to be taken over by state investigators? Why did it only take them 36 hours to make arrests when local investigators had sat on it for 70-plus days?

As one astute commenter wrote, "Remember, they weren't arrested because the authorities saw the tape; they were arrested because the rest of us saw it." Indeed.

There are other, more specific questions in this case that confound as well. Journalist Jelani Cobb broke down some of the contradictions in the story as told by the defendants' lawyer friend who released cell phone footage of the shooting.

Cobb wrote on Twitter:

There are many more questions than answers re #AhmaudArbery. The video, which looks like a lynching, was, strangely enough, released by a local attorney in an attempt to *defuse* the situation. (Police and prosecutors had the video from the outset.)

In the police report McMichael says he has surveillance video Arbery committing a burglary. Yet DA Barnhill makes no mention of any video in his letter defending the McMichaels, nor has anyone else publicly.

The account McMichael gave police in the report is widely at odds with what the video from the chase reveals. Travis McMichael didn't get out of the car during an exchange with Arbery, he was outside the car, armed with the shotgun, waiting for Arbery to pass by.

Beyond this, the alleged rationale for pursuing Arbery was suspicion of his involvement in a rash of neighborhood break-ins. But as local outlets have reported there were no home burglaries reported in the community in 2020.

There are all kinds of contradictions and outstanding questions regarding this situation that should guide how media and investigators approach the case of #AhmaudArbery's death.

We could debate all of the details of Arbery's killing, but doing so starts to distract from the big picture, which is this:

Black Americans don't feel safe in our country for a reason. Black Lives Matter exists for a reason. Black Americans have higher rates of poverty and more health problems and disproportionate crime rates for a reason. Black folks are even experiencing this freaking pandemic disproportionately for a reason.

Every reason for racial inequality and injustice traces back to racism—historical, institutional, racism — in addition to personal, individual racism. As prominent voices and activists—as well as my own black friends and family—keep saying, this isn't new. This has been the perpetual, ongoing, exhausting reality of daily life as a black American for centuries.

And we don't even have to go all the way back to slavery. In 1951, the Civil Rights Congress petitioned the United Nations to call the U.S. government to account for its crimes against black people in America. Seventy years later, despite having won equal civil rights on paper, black people are still experiencing injustice from institutions that are supposed to protect all Americans. We still have laws that can be—and are—used as a cover for racism. We still have to have national campaigns with organizations and senators and citizen petitions in order to get the wheels of justice turning for one black man murdered while jogging. It's ridiculous.

Our black friends, family, coworkers, and acquaintances are tired. Not only is the fight for justice seemingly never ending, but Ahmaud Arbery's death just adds to the laundry list of things black Americans have to worry about doing.

This is why it's not enough to just be "not racist." Being "not racist" in a country whose history and institutions have always been permeated with racism doesn't do anything to change the status quo. It's like saying, "I'm not planting weeds" in a garden where weeds keep popping up. That's nice that you're not contributing to it, but you're not actually helping.

Racism has to be uprooted to be eliminated, and that can't be done passively. We have to be willing to continually dig in and get our hands dirty if we ever hope to rid our world of it. Occasional activism like today's #IRunForMaud run are well and good, but occasional activism can't be all that we do.

White Americans (like myself) need to acknowledge that it's not enough to be non-racist and start embracing anti-racism. Start by following black thought leaders. Do an honest, deep dive into the concepts of white fragility and privilege. Join anti-racism groups, such as Showing Up for Racial Justice. Contact your representatives and push them for legislation like California's new Racial Justice Act. Keep on educating yourself and address racism directly when you see it.

Change doesn't just happen; it's created. If we want the stories of racial justice in America to have better endings, we need to play a proactive role in creating a whole new setting and an entirely new plotline for them.

People often think of government bureaucrats as being boring stuffed shirts, but whoever runs social media at the National Park Service is proving that at least some of them have a sense of humor.

In a Facebook post, the NPS shared some seasonal advice for park-goers about what to do if they happen to encounter a bear, and it's both helpful and hilarious. Not that a confrontation with a bear in real life is a laughing matter—bears can be dangerous—but humor is a good way to get people to pay attention to important advice.

They wrote:

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People often think of government bureaucrats as being boring stuffed shirts, but whoever runs social media at the National Park Service is proving that at least some of them have a sense of humor.

In a Facebook post, the NPS shared some seasonal advice for park-goers about what to do if they happen to encounter a bear, and it's both helpful and hilarious. Not that a confrontation with a bear in real life is a laughing matter—bears can be dangerous—but humor is a good way to get people to pay attention to important advice.

They wrote:

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Each year, an estimated 1.8 million people in the United States are affected by cancer — most commonly cancers of the breast, lung, prostate, and blood cancers such as leukemia. While not everyone overcomes the disease, thanks to science, more people are surviving — and for longer — than ever before in history.

We asked three people whose lives have been impacted by cancer to share their stories – how their lives were changed by the disease, and how they're using that experience to change the future of cancer treatments with the hope that ultimately, in the fight against cancer, science will win. Here's what they had to say.

Celine Ryan, 55, engineer database programmer and mother of five from Detroit, MI

Photo courtesy of Celine Ryan

In September 2013, Celine Ryan woke up from a colonoscopy to some traumatic news. Her gastroenterologist showed her a picture of the cancerous mass they found during the procedure.

Ryan and her husband, Patrick, had scheduled a colonoscopy after discovering some unusual bleeding, so the suspicion she could have cancer was already there. Neither of them, however, were quite prepared for the results to be positive -- or for the treatment to begin so soon. Just two days after learning the news, Ryan had surgery to remove the tumor, part of her bladder, and 17 cancerous lymph nodes. Chemotherapy and radiation soon followed.

Ryan's treatment was rigorous – but in December 2014, she got the devastating news that the cancer, once confined to her colon, had spread to her lungs. Her prognosis, they said, was likely terminal.

But rather than give up hope, Ryan sought support from online research, fellow cancer patients and survivors, and her medical team. When she brought up immunotherapy to her oncologist, he quickly agreed it was the best course of action. Ryan's cancer, like a majority of colon and pancreatic cancers, had been caused by a defect on the gene KRAS, which can result in a very aggressive cancer that is virtually "undruggable." According to the medical literature, the relatively smooth protein structure of the KRAS gene meant that designing inhibitors to bind to surface grooves and treat the cancer has been historically difficult. Through her support systems, Ryan discovered an experimental immunotherapy trial at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, MD., and called them immediately to see if she was eligible. After months of trying to determine whether she was a suitable candidate for the experimental treatment, Ryan was finally accepted.

The treatment, known as tumor-infiltrating lymphocyte therapy, or TIL, is a testament to how far modern science has evolved. With this therapy, doctors remove a tumor and harvest special immune cells that are found naturally in the tumor. Doctors then grow the cells in a lab over the next several weeks with a protein that promotes rapid TIL growth – and once the cells number into the billions, they are infused back into the patient's body to fight the cancer. On April 1, 2015, Ryan had her tumor removed at the NIH. Two months later, she went inpatient for four weeks to have the team "wash out" her immune system with chemotherapy and infuse the cells – all 148 billion of them – back into her body.

Six weeks after the infusion, Ryan and Patrick went back for a follow-up appointment – and the news they got was stunning: Not only had no new tumors developed, but the six existing tumors in her lungs had shrunk significantly. Less than a year after her cell infusion, in April 2016, the doctors told Ryan news that would have been impossible just a decade earlier: Thanks to the cell infusion, Ryan was now considered NED – no evaluable disease. Her body was cancer-free.

Ryan is still NED today and continuing annual follow-up appointments at the NIH, experiencing things she never dreamed she'd be able to live to see, such as her children's high school and college graduations. She's also donating her blood and cells to the NIH to help them research other potential cancer treatments. "It was an honor to do so," Ryan said of her experience. "I'm just thrilled, and I hope my experience can help a lot more people."

Patrice Lee, PhD, VP of Pharmacology, Toxicology and Exploratory Development at Pfizer

Photo courtesy of Patrice Lee

Patrice Lee got into scientific research in an unconventional way – through the late ocean explorer Jacques Cousteau.

Lee never met Cousteau but her dreams of working with him one day led her to pursue a career in science. Initially, Lee completed an undergraduate degree in marine biology; eventually, her interests changed and she decided to get a dual doctoral degree in physiology and toxicology at Duke University. She now works at Pfizer's R&D site in Boulder, CO (formerly Array BioPharma), leading a group of scientists who determine the safety and efficacy of new oncology drugs.

"Scientists focused on drug discovery and development in the pharmaceutical industry are deeply committed to inventing new therapies to meet unmet needs," Lee says, describing her field of work. "We're driven to achieve new medicines and vaccines as quickly as possible without sacrificing safety."

Among the drugs Lee has helped develop during her career, including cancer therapies, she says around a dozen are currently in development, while nine have received FDA approval — an incredible accomplishment as many scientists spend their careers without seeing their drug make it to market. Lee's team is particularly interested in therapies for brain metastases — something that Lee says is a largely unmet need in cancer research, and something her team is working on from a variety of angles. "Now that we've had rapid success with mRNA vaccine technology, we hope to explore what the future holds when applying this technology to cancers," Lee says.

But while evaluating potential cancer therapies is a professional passion of Lee's, it's also a mission that's deeply personal. "I'm also a breast cancer survivor," she says. "So I've been on the other side of things and have participated in a clinical trial."

However, seeing how melanoma therapies that she helped develop have affected other real-life cancer patients, she says, has been a highlight of her career. "We had one therapy that was approved for patients with BRAF-mutant metastatic melanoma," Lee recalls. "Our team in Boulder was graced by a visit from a patient that had benefited from these drugs that we developed. It was a very special moment for the entire team."

None of these therapies would be available, Lee says without rigorous science behind it: "Facts come from good science. Facts will drive the development of new drugs, and that's what will help patients."

Chiuying "Cynthia" Kuk (they/them) MS, 34, third-year medical student at Michigan State University College of Human Medicine

Photo courtesy of Cynthia Kuk

Cynthia Kuk was just 10 years old when they had a conversation that would change their life forever.

"My mother, who worked as a translator for the government at the time, had been diagnosed with breast cancer, and after her chemotherapy treatments she would get really sick," Kuk, who uses they/them pronouns, recalls. "When I asked my dad why mom was puking so much, he said it was because of the medicine she was taking that would help her get better."

Kuk's response was immediate: "That's so stupid! Why would a medicine make you feel worse instead of better? When I'm older, I want to create medicine that won't make people sick like that."

Nine years later, Kuk traveled from their native Hong Kong to the United States to do exactly that. Kuk enrolled in a small, liberal arts college for their Bachelor's degree, and then four years later started a PhD program in cancer research. Although Kuk's mother was in remission from her cancer at the time, Kuk's goal was the same as it had been as a 10-year-old watching her suffer through chemotherapy: to design a better cancer treatment, and change the landscape of cancer research forever.

Since then, Kuk's mission has changed slightly.

"My mom's cancer relapsed in 2008, and she ended up passing away about five years after that," Kuk says. "After my mom died, I started having this sense of urgency. Cancer research is such that you work for twenty years, and at the end of it you might have a fancy medication that could help people, but I wanted to help people now." With their mother still at the forefront of their mind, Kuk decided to quit their PhD program and enter medical school.

Now, Kuk plans to pursue a career in emergency medicine – not only because they are drawn to the excitement of the emergency room, but because the ER is a place where the most marginalized people tend to seek care.

"I have a special interest in the LGBTQ+ population, as I identify as queer and nonbinary," says Kuk. "A lot of people in this community and other marginalized communities access care through the ER and also tend to avoid medical care since there is a history of mistreatment and judgement from healthcare workers. How you carry yourself as a doctor, your compassion, that can make a huge difference in someone's care."

In addition to making a difference in the lives of LGBTQ+ patients, Kuk wants to make a difference in the lives of patients with cancer as well, like their mother had.

"We've diagnosed patients in the Emergency Department with cancer before," Kuk says. "I can't make cancer good news but how you deliver bad news and the compassion you show could make a world of difference to that patient and their family."

During their training, Kuk advocates for patients by delivering compassionate and inclusive care, whether they happen to have cancer or not. In addition to emphasizing their patient's pronouns and chosen names, they ask for inclusive social and sexual histories as well as using gender neutral language. In doing this, they hope to make medicine as a whole more accessible for people who have been historically pushed aside.

"I'm just one person, and I can't force everyone to respect you, if you're marginalized," Kuk says. "But I do want to push for a culture where people appreciate others who are different from them."