The most afraid I’ve ever been on a run was last June, when I got lost for nearly twelve hours trying to run the 31-mile Pemi Loop and wound up running a random 26 miles. I had to call the police when I got out of the woods to take me to my car. When I glimpsed the tall, white policeman pull up to me, I saw him as my way home, not as my potential murderer.
I was afraid on this run because I was alone and didn’t know how to get off the trails and back into civilization. I never feared for my life. I’ve never thought I would be murdered — shot to death — by strangers. I’ve never feared I would be killed by running, or for the color of my skin. Because I am white.
Ahmaud Arbery felt real fear while running. He felt terror he wouldn’t make it out alive because of his skin color, and on February 23, 2020, he didn’t.
Right now, people in my community — runners — are outraged and spreading news of this egregious act of racism and violent injustice. This is more than politics: it’s murder. It’s a boy’s life, and it’s two murderers — with video evidence against them — who were not arrested until May 7th, 2020. So, it’s heartening to see the response in my community, from people who are usually active to people who are usually silent.
Many of us, however, including myself, are guilty of putting more effort into Ahmaud’s case because he too was a runner. There is a common bond. We can put ourselves into his running shoes and jog the miles with him and imagine if we didn’t come home. We can imagine how our parents and roommates and relatives and friends would feel — the sickening, icy way his did. But we must remember: Ahmaud didn’t die because he was a runner.
He died because he was black. We can choose to run, but he did not choose to be black. And he certainly did not choose the systemic racism that killed him.
I hope moving forward, the running community — my friends and teammates and competitors — will care as much about all cases of racial injustices as we do about Ahmaud. This is more than running or running safety. This was a lynching; it was far from the first, and it won’t be the last.
Running is a freedom white people take for granted, so to see a fellow runner be publicly stripped of that right hits home to us. Again, though, he did not lose his life because he was running; the horrifying, ever-growing list of black people who are murdered because racists see them as criminals proves it. Ahmaud lost his right to life while running, just as Trayvon Martin lost his while walking home, just as Jordan Edwards lost his while driving home with friends, just as Atatiana Jefferson lost hers while being in her own home, just as, just as, just as….
My friend, a black man, made a heartbreaking point: racism doesn’t just show up in the deaths. It’s all around black people, all the time. Microaggressions, overlooked by white people, are what lead to murder. I wish they weren’t called “microaggressions” because that makes them sound small, but for black people, they’re overpowering. That comment, that look, that cultural appropriation, that mistreatment…they aren’t harmless. They are dangerous, and they cost lives. As my friend told me, the black person shot and killed — whether running or not — could have been him.
Ahmaud was the same age I am now. We think of age 25 as adulthood, but truly, I still feel like a child in some aspects. I’m sure he did too. I still cry when I’m upset. I still bring laundry home when I visit my parents. I still don’t know how to do my taxes. America strips black people of their youth. You can see it in racist portrayals and language. Teenagers are “men.” 12-year-olds are killed for playing. Ahmaud was 25 when he was murdered, and 25 is a step beyond childhood.
Let’s pay tribute to Ahmaud and shed light on injustice, but let’s not do it because he was a runner, something we can relate to. Let’s do it because he is human, like all of us. Let’s fight against white supremacists — like his killers — who do not view black people as human. Let’s work to make running and walking and driving and playing and being a right that is extended to black people once and for all.