This piece is adapted from a tribute to Ahmaud Arbery in the Golden Shoe Awards 2020 in Canadian Running’s January & February 2021 issue.
On Feb. 23, 2020, 25-year-old Ahmaud Arbery of Brunswick, Ga., was stalked and killed while running near his home. It was three months before a cellphone video of the killing sparked widespread outrage, and Travis and Gregory McMichael were eventually charged with murder. (Two weeks later, William Bryan, who shot the video, was also charged.) Along with the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25 under the knee of a white police officer and the Mar. 13 killing of Breonna Taylor by police in Louisville, Ky., Arbery’s death led to the kind of mass demonstrations against anti-Black racism not seen in America since the Rodney King riots of 1992.
The fact that Arbery was a former high-school football player who liked to run for fitness meant that runners were no longer insulated from conversations about racism and police brutality. We were forced to acknowledge that our sport is not as inclusive as we like to think, and that running isn’t safe for everyone (not even all men). Arbery’s specific legacy is to challenge white runners to confront their own complacency.
In the words of journalist and three-time Canadian Olympian Rosey Edeh, “Ahmaud’s story is the hideous story of anti-Black racism cutting deep into the world of running.” Edeh noticed the mural honouring Arbery that was painted on Toronto’s Wallace Ave. by graffiti artists Kizmet Gabriel and Francis Pratt (a runner himself).
Pratt, who is white, shares his reflections on what happened to Arbery: “I can run in pretty much any part of the city, day or night, and not worry about being harassed or fear for my safety. The fact that I can run free is an extreme privilege. I wanted to honour his life. Painting this mural on the Wallace bridge was a way to give some kind of representation to Black runners in a predominantly white neighbourhood.”
The three men charged in the death of Arbery have yet to go to trial, and they remain in custody. According to news reports, they have requested bail and been denied on multiple occasions.