A sunny Sunday afternoon in bucolic Brunswick, Georgia. 25 year-old Ahmaud Arbery sets off for a regular run through his neighbourhood. You know that run. A smooth jog, the pace—just enough to get your heart pumping faster, stronger, sending needed oxygen to your working muscles through blood rich veins. You have on a white t-shirt, like Ahmaud and long shorts, loose enough to let your arms and legs flow with ease allowing a rhythmic trot—yes, now you’ve got your flow on and all your cares have disappeared, your mind and body are one.
Your jog takes you through familiar tree-lined streets. Like Ahmaud, you’re a former high school football speedster, so, you may pick up the pace from time to time during the run to challenge yourself. Every now and then you glance around during your run, admiring a bird, perhaps, or looking out for the odd automobile on your ‘easy like Sunday morning’ peaceful run.
This Sunday jog, like the countless runs before, is a time for you to be one with yourself, like Ahmaud. You’re a purist, like Ahmaud. No phone or headphones to mess with the sanctity of your run. All you want, like Ahmaud, is to be out in the free air, living your life, running for your mental and physical health.
Sunday, February 23, 2020 has all the hallmarks of a perfect day. It’s 17 celcius. There’s light wind, hazy sunshine, why wouldn’t you go out for your usual run? What could possibly go horrendously wrong?
February 23rd, Ahmaud’s run is violently cut short.
Ahmaud Arbery is running a couple of miles from his home, mighty oak trees seem to bend to greet him, or maybe, they try to warn him.
Terrible, insidious, trouble lurks.
Kindly allow a brief departure from this southern sojourn into madness and travel back in time one week. Head west to Los Angeles where comedian Jay Pharoah was exercising outdoors when he found himself surrounded by four police officers, guns drawn, barking orders to get on the ground and spread his arms and legs like an“airplane.” The former Saturday Night Live cast member complied, was cuffed and for a few long moments, in addition to being bound, face down on the sidewalk, had a knee to his neck which kept Pharoah pinned like captured prey until police confirmed they had the wrong guy and released him. It’s a shame the California sun didn’t warn Pharoah of the inherent troubles of exercising while black. Pharoah was able to walk away from the unsettling and humiliating police encounter; George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man arrested May 25—for allegedly trying to pass a counterfeit 20 dollar bill at a Minneapolis convenience store—was not. The deputized knee to Floyd’s neck compressed for 8 minutes and 46 seconds and squeezed the life from his bound body in full view of cellphone cameras.
Before madness is brought to bear in Georgia, Ahmaud, an aspiring electrician, stops to take a look at a home under construction. A couple of minutes later—and what was likely a welcome pit stop—Ahmaud resumes his run. With steady breath and sure feet, Ahmaud Arbery jogs through the neighbourhood of Satilla Shores. Ahmaud jogs by a home, a man sees him and immediately determines he’s a threat. The man calls out to his son, they grab their weapons and set out in a pick up truck to confront Ahmaud Arbery in relation to a series of burglaries they propose he committed in their neighbourhood.
Georgia law states: “A private person may arrest an offender if the offence is committed in his presence or within his immediate knowledge.”
Neither of the armed men witnessed Ahmaud committing any offences. There is one element the lynch posse did observe and that is Ahmaud Arbery’s black skin. The white men attest a series of break-ins were committed by a black man. A black man jogs by their home and the white men conclude the black man is guilty and must be brought to justice.
Ahmaud’s beautiful, peaceful run is abruptly interrupted. The pick-up truck tries to cut off Ahmaud, but his fleet feet take him in another direction and he runs from the lynch mob hellbent on taking the law into their own hands. Ahmaud Arbery, continues his run, now the pace has quickened, arms and legs pumping, mind racing. A few moments later, back on the street running, perhaps Ahmaud Arbery is hoping to regain his perfectly peaceful Sunday pace prior to the threatening and troubling interruption, but that is not to be the case. Ahmaud Arbery comes face to face with his hunters—one, looming in the flatbed with a handgun, the other, exiting the truck with a shotgun.
Ahmaud veers into a yard, makes a sharp left and a violent tussle ensues. Arbery fights for his life trying desperately to wrestle the shotgun out of the hands of the assailant. A video, released May 5, shows the violent end to Ahmaud Arbery’s perfect Sunday jog. Arbery’s fit frame encased in glistening dark brown skin, falls forward following three cold shots that pierce his body—one grazes the inside of his right wrist, two shotgun blasts gouge fatal holes in his chest.
In an instant of unchecked brutality and hate, a perfect Sunday run, a run we runners cherish, is stripped away from the avid runner.
Ahmaud Arbery bleeds out on the street and loses his young, hope-filled life because his skin tone ignited the wrath of men who prefer to cut down and destroy rather to live and let live. The oak trees in Brunswick, Georgia, which offer sweet shade to Sunday runners bend in sorrow and shame for the horrible injustice inflicted on yet another innocent black body, mind and soul.
Running while black should not be a death sentence. If you cherish the freedom, beauty and humanity of the right to exercise free of brutality and death, you should demand justice for Ahmaud Arbery. Black LivesMatter in Canada, the United States, and all over the world.
To follow Rosey Edeh on Twitter, see @roseyedeh.
We are sooo, not immune to these treatments of humiliation and racism here in Canada. A similar running confrontation happened here in Brampton, ON and makes me curious to hear other “running while Black” Canadian stories. Although not ending in death, we still need to disrupt these narratives and stop sweeping them under the rug as if it is just another Black experience that is tolerated and then continue to ignore. I would like to see more people shine the light on the Canadian treatments of humiliation and inequality and for us to make some strides towards change.
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