The mother of Ahmaud Arbery has condemned Kanye West’s “White Lives Matter” stunt as a move that “legitimises” the type of “extremist behaviour” that led to her son’s racist murder at the hands of three white men.
Wanda Cooper-Jones told Rolling Stone in a statement through her attorney Lee Merritt that West’s “mockery” of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement and promotion of the white supremacist phrase “set us all back” in the fight against extremism.
Ms Cooper-Jones said she felt “extreme disappointment” with the rapper’s actions which “flies directly in the face” of the support that he has shown to her and the families of other victims behind closed doors.
“As a result of his display ‘White Lives Matter’ started trending in the US, which would direct support and legitimise extremist behaviour, [much] like the behaviour that took the life of her son,” the statement read.
“That is the thing that Wanda and families like hers continue to fight against.
“This mockery of the Black Lives Matter movement and his now denunciation of the movement as some sort of hoax flies directly in the face [of what he’s said].”
The statement continued: “It’s confusing for her, it’s confusing for the families to receive his support privately, but publicly to set us all back.”
Mr Merritt, a prominent civil rights attorney, added in an Instagram post that what happened to Arbery was “not a hoax” as he branded West’s actions “dangerous”.
“What happened to Wanda Cooper-Jones’s son was not a hoax. White supremacist ideology and associated violence is on the rise. Whatever Kanye’s motive for endorsing the ‘white lives matter’ troupe it is in fact dangerous,” he wrote.
Arbery was murdered in a racially-motivated attack in the Satilla Shores neighbourhood in Brunswick, Georgia, back on 23 February 2020.
The unarmed Black 25-year-old was jogging through the neighbourhood when he was chased by three white men in their pickup trucks. One of the men then shot him dead in the street in broad daylight.
A mural of murdered Black man Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia
(Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)
The three killers evaded justice for months before footage of the murder – filmed by one of the three killers – was leaked, finally leading to their arrests.
All three men are now serving life sentences on state murder charges and federal hate crimes charges.
In 2020, Arbery’s name became one of the rallying cries of the BLM movement when racial justice protests calling for an end to systemic racism and police brutality in the wake of George Floyd’s murder spread across America.
At the height of the movement, West announced that he had donated $2m to support the families of Arbery, Floyd, and Breonna Taylor – the EMT who was shot dead by police during a botched raid in Louisville, Kentucky, in March 2020.
The donation included funding for legal fees for the families, college tuition for Floyd’s daughter as well funding to support Black-owned businesses in his home city of Chicago.
Now, two years on, West is under fire for branding BLM a “hoax” and promoting a phrase typically championed by white supremacists.
On Monday, the rapper showcased his new Yeezy SZN 9 collection in Paris, sending models down the runway in shirts emblazoned with the phrase “White Lives Matter”.
West also wore a shirt featuring the same slogan and posed alongside controversial right-wing commentator Candace Owens who sported a matching design.
The move sparked an instant backlash with Jaden Smith walking out of the fashion show and Vogue contributing editor Karefa-Johnson calling out West for his “indefensible behaviour” and his “incredibly irresponsible and dangerous act”.
But West continued to stand by his design, taking fresh aim at BLM – as well as his critics.
“EVERYONE KNOWS BLACK LIVES MATTER WAS A SCAM. NOW ITS OVER. YOU’RE WELCOME,” he wrote on Instagram on Tuesday.
According to the Anti-Defamation League, “White Lives Matter” is a “white supremacist phrase that originated in early 2015 as a racist response to the Black Lives Matter movement”.