Why Jackson Residents Ran for Ahmaud Arbery

America's legacy of racial violence is in sharp focus as people reflect on the killing of an unarmed black jogger.
Augusta Friendsmith and Ernie Rodriguez run for Ahmaud Arbery on the National Elk Refuge. (Robyn Vincent)

by | May 14, 2020 | News

Thousands of people across the globe ran 2.23 miles on Friday to honor Ahmaud Arbery.

Arbery, an unarmed black man, was shot by two white men, a father and son, while he was jogging in a Georgia neighborhood. He was killed on February 23, hence the significance of 2.23 miles.

Under a cloudless spring sky, Augusta Friendsmith and Ernie Rodriguez laced up their sneakers and hit the Elk Refuge road. Friendsmith ran for a few reasons. For one, Friday was Arbery’s birthday and she wanted to join in the global day of action to honor what would have been his 26th trip around the sun. Friendsmith also ran as a protest.

“Black America and white America are living in two very different realities,” she said. “And we need to stand up against racism in America and fight against these antiquated citizen’s arrest laws that empower racists to grab guns and hunt down their neighbors.”

George E. Barnhill, a Georgia prosecutor, cited Georgia’s citizen’s arrest law as the reason Gregory McMichael, 64, and his son, Travis McMichael, 34, should not be held responsible for Arbery’s death, The New York Times reported. Barnhill wrote that they had “solid first-hand probable cause” that he was a “burglary suspect.”

There is no evidence of this, the Times reported.

It took two months, a leaked video that captured Arbery’s killing, and mounting public outrage for Arbery’s assailants to be charged and arrested. That happened just last week.

One of the shooters is a former police officer.

That’s worth noting when it comes to the way local authorities connected to the shooters handled the case. Their actions are under scrutiny and could become the subject of a federal investigation. It is also notable given black men are 2.5 times more likely to die at the hands of police than white men.

A Fatal Pattern

Arbery was killed doing what he loved: running. Jason Vaughn, Abery’s high school football coach, launched the global run that drew thousands of people to the streets with this in mind.

And Arbery’s love for running is partly what brought Rodriguez out to the Elk Refuge on Friday. “I’m running for Ahmaud because he can’t run anymore,” Rodriguez said.

He also ran to honor Arbery’s family and their loss.

“This weekend, Mother’s Day, forever for his family will be changed. From this point forward, it won’t be a happy occasion. It will be very sad every year, and all due to a reckless, senseless, horrible, cruel act.”

“I wish I could remember the names of every black person that was murdered unjustly in our country.”

Five and a half miles away, Maggie Stewart walked 2.23 miles in her Rafter J neighborhood. She says Jackson may seem a world away from the coastal community of Glynn County, Georgia, where Arbery was killed. But racial violence in America is widespread, she said, and no part of the U.S. is immune.

“Even though geographically we’re really far apart, unfortunately, you’ll see instances of racism all over our country,” Stewart said. “And I feel like the more that we can do to bring awareness to what’s happening to people of color in our country, the more likely justice will be served for those who murdered Ahmaud and other perpetrators of racial violence.”

Stewart says when she learned about Arbery’s murder she wasn’t surprised.

“This is a pattern in our country. I wish I could remember the names of every black person that was murdered unjustly in our country—one that comes to mind is Trayvon Martin. There are so many names and these are just some of the names that have been elevated to a national scale. There’s, I’m sure, a lot more that we don’t even know about.”

People are running and walking all week to honor Arbery. But even before that, the work of activists made a difference, Stewart said. “Two of his killers have been arrested and that’s due to public outcry. So I have to remain hopeful.”

But that hope is tempered. That the suspects have been charged and arrested is just one step, Stewart said, on a long and arduous road to addressing America’s legacy of racial violence.

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About Robyn Vincent

Robyn launched KHOL's news department. She has worked as a reporter and editor in Wyoming for the last decade and her work has aired on NPR stations throughout the West. When she's not sweating deadlines, Robyn sustains her nomadic heart by traveling the world with her notebook and camera in hand. Follow @TheNomadicHeart

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