Safety, Public Space and Ahmaud Arbery
On February 23, 2020, 25-year-old Ahmaud Arbery was jogging in his neighborhood when two men chased, shot, and killed him. A third person recorded this in a graphic video that shows exactly what happened. Ahmaud Arbery was murdered.
Brunswick, Georgia, where Ahmaud Arbery lived, is 650 miles from Washington, DC. But this issue hits close to home. Ahmaud Arbery was just out for a run. He was doing exactly what we want people to be able to do during the coronavirus crisis: using the streets around where he lived to get some exercise.
In our work we talk a lot about the need for safe streets. But what does safe mean?
Privilege means some of us can move freely and without fear in public space. But not all of us have that privilege. In the United States, the deep-seated, ever-present racism built into our structures and systems means that what is safe for one person is not safe for everyone. The fact is, Ahmaud Arbery was killed in Brunswick, Georgia— but it could have happened anywhere. It could have happened in Maryland, in Virginia, or in any quadrant of Washington, DC.
What Gregory and Travis McMichael did to Ahmaud Arbery is terrifying. Ahmaud’s life was taken from him. His personhood, which was full and real and deserved protecting, was taken. This keeps happening in the United States over and over again.
Racial justice is an essential part of our work for safe and open streets. Systemic racism means that people of color, and particularly young black men and women, are threatened every day by the violence of racial profiling, discriminatory practices, and increased policing while biking, running, walking, and just existing in public space.
White people who don’t acknowledge their privilege, white people who don’t understand the weight of this on their neighbors of color, white people who call the police on community members for not wearing masks or for gathering in public space or for running or even just existing, are part of this threat.
To the members of our community who see themselves in Ahmaud Arbery’s story and feel afraid: we see you. We hear you.
To those who move through public space without that weight: ask yourself if it is because of your white privilege, and how you can divest from that.
As we call for open streets and access to public space for exercise and recreation, we know: until everyone is safe in public space, our work is not done.