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The death of Ahmaud Arbery: When running while black gets you killed | COMMENTARY

Jason Vaughn, a football coach at Brunswick High School who coached Ahmaud Arbery - who was killed while on a run - at his home in Glynn County, Ga., April 16. The 25-year-old man was running through a Georgia neighborhood when he was shot and killed - a prosecutor argued that the pursuers should not be arrested.
Jason Vaughn, a football coach at Brunswick High School who coached Ahmaud Arbery - who was killed while on a run - at his home in Glynn County, Ga., April 16. The 25-year-old man was running through a Georgia neighborhood when he was shot and killed - a prosecutor argued that the pursuers should not be arrested. (Richard Fausset/The New York Times)

On Friday, people around the country, including in Maryland, will lace up their sneakers and run 2.23 miles.

They will run to mourn and to bring attention to yet another senseless killing of a black man — Ahmaud Arbery. They will run to shine a national spotlight on his name and seek justice for the tragic end to his life. When they are done, these runners will light up social media sites with the hashtag #IRunWithMaud.

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Arbery should have been celebrating his 26th birthday Friday. But he was followed, accosted and eventually killed by two men — a father and a son — while jogging in Georgia on Feb. 23, hence the 2.23-mile tribute runs.

The father, Gregory McMichael, a former police officer, told police he and his son confronted Arbery because he fit the description in a string of break-ins in the area. They claimed self-defense, and the case was written off until an anonymous and graphic 36-second video posted to social media raised serious questions and catalyzed a public push back for justice.

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It if were not for the video and public embarrassment, the case of Arbery’s death probably would have gone nowhere. Instead, it brought attention to the horrific incident and late Thursday night the Georgia Bureau of Investigation announced they had arrested the father and son and charged them with murder — two months after the incident.

That it took so long to hold the pair responsible reflects yet again the lack of value on black life that still exists in this country. It’s the same sentiment that makes me wonder if people wouldn’t be so quick to open up the country if the COVID-19 pandemic wasn’t hitting African Americans at disproportionate rates. Would the country care more if it was disproportionately whites contracting the virus? Would it instill more compassion in people?

If Arbery had been a white man and the suspects black, would authorities had simply relied on the story told by the father and son, which a 10-year-old would find questionable? Wouldn’t it seem more likely that Arbery was the one acting in self-defense against two strange men who came at him with shotguns? I know I would be scared and jump into fight or flight mode with the barrel of a gun in my face. How exactly did Mr. McMichael and his son end up the victims? We all know the answer if we’re honest with ourselves. White men are often given the benefit of the doubt over blacks by police.

And exactly what description were the father and son relying on in their pursuit of Arbery? One of the ubiquitous ones often put out by police departments? You know the ones: Tall black man. Black man with medium complexion. Black man wearing a red shirt. Black man with facial hair. Descriptions that cover just about every black man in America.

This is why African Americans can’t do mundane activities without thinking about the consequences. Arbery’s mom told CNN she never worried about her son’s safety because he jogged all the time. In fact, he had been doing it for years. Apparently she needed to be concerned. Remember 12-year-old Tamir Rice was shot in Cleveland, Ohio, in 2014 while playing in the park like any other little boy might do.

Let’s consider the recommendation by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to wear nonmedical masks to help stop the spread of COVID-19. Seems easy enough to embrace. Not so much for black men who have to worry every day about racial profiling. A certain color mask might get them confused as a gang member by police. And they certainly aren’t going to wear a bandanna like some have suggested. Black men around the country have already been pulled up by police because of their masks.

And now apparently African Americans can’t even go for a jog.

The half-minute video shot from a car driving behind Arbery shows a painful end to the young man’s life. He is jogging on a residential road when he gets to a white truck stopped in the street. A man stands in the bed of the truck and another on the driver’s side. Arbery runs around the truck and then you can’t see him in the video for a few seconds. When he is seen again, three shots can be heard fired. Arbery looks as if he is trying to fight off one of the men. He runs a few steps and falls in the road.

Georgia authorities finally did the right thing and the whole country will be watching closely to see if justice is fully won. The final outcome will be another referendum on whether black lives mean anything in this country.

Andrea K. McDaniels is The Sun’s deputy editorial page editor. Her column runs every other Friday. Please send her ideas at amcdaniels@baltsun.com.

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