The Difference Between Me and Ahmaud Arbery

I run every other morning. Mostly uphill sprinting. My usual running outfit is a pair of black short-shorts so small you can see the ends of my boxer briefs and a blue tanktop made of some slick unnatural material that doesn’t hold sweat and stink too much. When it’s a little hot, I lose the top and run around half naked in tiny shorts. When it’s cold, I wear black thermal leggings and a matching shirt, often with black gloves, a hat, and a black ski mask over my mouth and nose. Years ago, I wore the hoodie and sweatpants variation of that for cold weather.

So, depending on which weather-determined outfit I’m wearing, I may look to passersby like an amateur athlete, an exhibitionist, a harmless weirdo, a superhero or supervillain, a ninja, a burglar, an assassin, a murderer, or a jewel thief.

Years ago, I was an endurance runner, or long-distance jogger, because I was a fool and a masochist. For several years during that period, I lived in an apartment in Philadelphia on Mt Vernon, between 17th and 18th. The area may be largely gentrified by now; it was on its way in that direction when I was there, mostly a Black and Latinx neighborhood with handfuls of us crackers, college students and yuppies mostly, creeping into the cracks. I’d go on multiple long runs throughout the week, on routes that went through everywhere between Temple University campus, the Falls Bridge, and Chinatown. For those not from Philly, that won’t mean anything; suffice to say it’s a large area of the city, covering a broad diversity of neighborhoods, some of them on the sketchier side.

I’ve run in the country, major cities, small towns, rich neighborhoods, poor neighborhoods. I have gone running in maybe close to a fifth of US states, as well as Costa Rica, and about a quarter of European countries.

These days, I only run in the mornings, shortly after waking, sometimes before dawn. Years ago, I was mostly a night runner. I’ve also dabbled in afternoon running. Hardly any time of day I haven’t run.

Wherever I’ve run, in whoever’s neighborhood, however I was dressed, I was never chased by men in a truck and shot dead in the street. Not once. Not even close. Never so much as had the police called on me. Nothing very bad has ever been done to me while I’ve been running.

I’m white.

I can go almost anywhere, dressed virtually however I want, and nothing will happen. The most I might get are looks and comments. White skin is a pass that puts one beneath most suspicion. That shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone, and probably isn’t to non-white people at all. Yet it seems to need to be said and said again every time another black person is murdered in this country for existing, for doing any of the quotidian shit we all do day every day.

Crimes like these, in addition to the life-pass of whiteness, highlight also the badge of whiteness, the way that some white people perceive it as their right or duty too assault or kill non-white people on the pretext of upholding law and justice. It’s a perversion of those notions deeply embedded in our country’s cultural history. Through most of the history of this stolen and colonized land, it was the prerogative of all white men to carry guns and enforce their will on non-whites. It’s no more disgusting and horrific now than it was one or a few centuries prior. The difference is that it is no longer the majority consensus that such acts of evil and depravity are acceptable, and that we have video evidence of today’s murders.

It’s bad enough that the actual police harass, detain, assault, and kill black men every day without cause. It’s another more egregious matter when crackers with no legal authority decide that they do have the legal authority to police black people, and conflate that imagined authority with the right to kill. It is the product of narcissistic psychopathy coupled with the degenerate culture of white supremacy that makes a white man believe that if he sees a problem (a black man) he has the right to act on impulse and run out and deal with it (shoot him). Because of the disgraceful historical precedent, there are clearly still too many white men in this country who believe they have this right, and too many legal authorities who are loath to disabuse them of their false belief and prosecute them like the murdering scum they are.

If I were running, or walking, doing anything, and an unknown man of any skin color starts chasing me, I would not ever think, “Ah, he must be a well-meaning vigilante with a heart of gold. I’d better stay where I am and see what he wants.” I’m not a moron. He has no right to chase me. If I see a gun, my natural instinct would be to get the fuck away fast. If he was too close for me to run, pointing a gun at me, I’d probably fight him. You probably would too. Anyone would. Whether armed men are chasing you on foot or in a truck, you run or you fight. Those are the only logical things to do. Being a white man does not make you an authority, and a white man, like any man, with a gun, is a threat.

Men like Ahmaud Arbery, boys like Trayvon Martin, too many like them, did nothing wrong. That shouldn’t need to be said. It shouldn’t be the starting point of the discussion. What they were doing and who they were is not the relevant point. They were murdered. That’s the starting point. That should be the focus. The defenders of white supremacy, whether they’re in law enforcement, politics, the media, or just some random jackoffs, will always try to spin the narrative to justify the crime. They’ll manufacture some crime or cause for suspicion, create a reason for why it was okay to murder a person. Even if Arbery had been a burglar, which he obviously was not, he was normal guy out for a run in running clothes, that wouldn’t justify his murder. Unless someone is actively burgling your home, there is not the tiniest bit of justification for shooting them. Only a psychotic monster would react to seeing a jogger by chasing that jogger in a truck and shooting them dead.

As evidenced by this case, and too many others preceding it, local law enforcement are not qualified to have authority over their own jurisdictions, and cannot be trusted to behave responsibly and do their jobs correctly. This murder only became an issue because there is a video and that video was leaked. It is a failed criminal justice system that requires there be video of a murder taking place for it to be prosecuted. We should not require a video of the murder of every black person for their murder, their life, their personhood to be acknowledged and their killers punished. Ahmaud Arbery’s murderers had all but gotten away with their crime. They murdered a young man and were living free months after. It wasn’t local prosecutors doing their damn job, and it damn sure wasn’t the police, that led the charge and worked to see justice done. It wasn’t until the video of the murder went viral and public outcry became too loud to ignore that anything was done and the murderers were actually charged with murder.

No one should stop that outcry now. Don’t assume that because the murderers were finally charged that this is over. It’s only because a video was recorded, then leaked, then spread and viewed by millions of people that anything at all was done. The indication is that if there had been no public outcry, Arbery’s murderers would not have been charged. That they’ve finally been charged is the bare minimum we should expect and only the start of the process. This case won’t be over until these murderers have been given the harshest sentence they deserve. And the systemic problems, the disease of white supremacy, that led to this murder may never end, not without constant activism and pressure from the national community.

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