The nation, particularly communities around Georgia, continues to monitor developments in the murder case of Ahmaud Arbery, the 25-year-old African American man who was shot dead in broad daylight after a confrontation with two white men who believed — without any evidence — him to be a thief. But among some Blacks who enjoy outdoor fitness activities, a concern has developed about their safety.
"When I'm running, people give me two looks," Edward Walton, a metro Atlanta cybersecurity architect and consultant and co-founder of running enthusiasts group Black Men Running, told NBC News. "Why is this Black guy running? What is he running from? What did he do?"
The group was founded to address health disparities often faced by African American men and pay attention to their physical fitness. But incidents like Arbery’s death serve as a reminder that a Black person seen doing routine activities like running, which Arbery’s family has said he was known to do in his Brunswick, Georgia neighborhood, could be looked at suspiciously and taken as complicit in a criminal act.
This has turned Walton’s group toward a more activist outlook. Recently, the group developed a social media campaign #irunwithmaud which encouraged people to run 2.23 miles, symbolizing the day of Arbery’s killing, on May 8, which would have been his 26th birthday.
Tobias A. Jackson-Campbell, an Atlanta realtor who runs marathons, said that because of what happened to Arbery, he has rethought where he chooses to run. He says in the past he has been followed by police, stopped and asked what business he had in certain neighborhoods.
"For me, as a Black man running, it's sometimes like driving while Black," he told NBC News. "If it could happen to him, it could definitely happen to me."
That sentiment also exists for parents of young runners who want to be assured of their children’s safety. Kristea Cancel, a running enthusiast who lives in North Carolina remembers how during a run in Tennessee she was followed by a man in a pickup truck who threw a drink at her. For that reason, she tracked a recent run of her 13-year-old son on an app so that she’d know his whereabouts.
"When will it be OK to just be shopping, running, in the park and not be feared or criminalized by people who can't just let us be human beings, enjoying life as they are entitled to do?" Cancel told NBC News. "No mother should be worried a run or walk may end their son's life."
It’s a dilemma that is clear in the minds of people like Walton, who knows that people are now making changes for their own safety.
"I'm changing my patterns," Walton said, "because I can't change the color of my skin."