Before he goes on an occasional jog, Akeem Baker makes sure he wears something bright. He charts a familiar course through the neighborhood where he is known. And he looks up at the sky and shakes his best friend, Ahmed Erby.
The ritual is painful for Baker. He realizes that he is compelled to follow a list of precautions reserved only for black runners to maintain their safety. It also hurts because it was the tragic murder of Erby – his friend when he was 6 years old – in Brunswick, Georgia, provoking security measures a year earlier that he had not implemented before 23 February.
“I used to run for health reasons,” said Baker, a 2016 Morehouse College graduate. “Now I run for the feeling of healing, as if I’m pursuing some kind of freedom.”
Baker’s life and motivations for running changed when Erby’s sister called her, while she was in New York, the night her brother was chased into a pickup truck, shot and murdered as she jogged . Two white men await trial. A third man, who was also arrested, recorded the shooting on cellphone video.
Baker said, “From February 23, 2020, I think of my friend and pray that her life is not in vain.” He met Erby in an elementary school bus, and they became fast friends for the next 20 years.
He said he was “raging” when he read a text message from Erby’s sister who shared what he had been told at the time – Erby who broke into someone’s house and was a liar. “I cried in the bathroom all night,” Baker said. “I was heartbroken. And I’m still fucked.”
According to the prosecution, father and sons Gregory and Travis McMichael chased Erby, who had stayed to stray inside an under-construction house in his neighborhood.
The image is recorded in the minds of black runners who spoke to NBC News: 25-year-old Erebi stumbled before falling to the ground after being shot.
Kevin O. Davis, a member of the Plano Running Club in Texas, said, “His tragic death for Black Travers changed everything. There are 2,000 members, almost all of whom are white.” “I’ve changed everything. I’ve seen people in my car slow down as I run and look in their rearview mirror that I’m not robbing their house. I’ve come across white women who Screams just because they look. I am driven by them.
“Once, when I stopped walking in a light, this blond man rolled down his window and sprayed pesticide in my face for no reason. I felt that I was going blind.
He said, “But Ahmud Arbe is something different, something sinister. So I don’t go jogging when it’s dark, and when I make sure I’m wearing reflectors. I’m nervous about running in black jogging clothes.” ” . “It’s all different. We have to be self-aware.”
Black female joggers similarly adjust to safety, said Buffalo’s Kim Becky. Baccaid, an avid runner who also takes to the road in the snow, killed Erebi as a Cuban to change his jogging pattern.
55-year-old Becky said, “As black runners, we should worry about what we wear and where we go. I’ve just worn more bright colors. I’ve told my sons not to wear hoodies Because they will be judged. Now when I have to go out and run, I have to take my advice and it is a shame.
“We have to walk smart, but at the same time we should not give up our freedom because of our race,” she said.
In keeping with that idea and the spirit of Erby, the 2:23 Foundation was founded last year to raise awareness about the shooting and to “pursue a path to help young men and women avoid similar incidents and incidents” To help “. The group, which has more than 82,000 followers on Facebook, has scheduled a national 2.23-mile race in memory of Erby on this death anniversary.
Tiron Irby, owner of The Choice Fitness and Sports Performance Center in Durham, North Carolina, has memories that help him understand the fears he felt a year ago. Irby said that when he was growing up in Brooklyn, New York, he was chased by two white youths after leaving his bus home from school. “They were watching me running,” he said. “I ran fast enough to avoid them. But I am afraid of what I felt and can only think what Ahmed felt.
“As black runners, we have to keep eyes on the back of our head. It’s part of being black in America. It’s sad to think that every day we have to think about the shoes we wear , Choose the color we run, where we run. And now, during an epidemic, wearing a mask, a hoodie, running at 6 in the morning… it can be problematic. “
But that did not stop Irby and others from continuing down the sidewalk and raising awareness about Erby’s death. He created #TWeWeStandNC, a group that generates buzz around the race, with the murder of Erby as a conversation starter.
Irby, a member of the huge social media group #RunWithMaud, has committed to another run in memory of more than 100 runners Erebi – Maud 2.23 Virtual Run on Tuesday 23rd is sponsored by Fleet Feet Carborobo, an apparel company in Durham.
“Everyone should be safe when they run. But that’s not the case,” Irby said.
He said: “When I get out of the house at 3 in the morning, my car has my registration, my ID and speed limit. Now we have to take similar precautions when we run. An emotional every day There is a toll. One has to pay to be black. We have to be aware. It’s a bad way to live. “
Dr. For Terrell Holloway, the murder of Erby, a black psychiatrist at Yale University, will be avenged.
“It’s fascinating, because we think about the trauma and stress with soldiers in a war situation,” Holloway said. “But what about the stress … what happened to Ahmed Arberry? It’s about how you process a situation that affects you. But the fact that black people have this There are kinds of examples and ideas, that can happen to you. ” The prominence of racism. “
Baker said the trauma of Erby’s death prompted him to seek counseling. Every two weeks he goes to see a doctor so that he can be confronted. “That’s enough,” he said. Kobe Bryant “died on my birthday – I was a huge fan. Less than a month later, my best friend died. Ahmed was my go-to guy.”
Augustus Turner, 37, a chief in the Army stationed in Madison, Alabama, wrote in a Facebook post about the psychological trauma of killing Erby, which went viral. It read, in part: “Sometimes, in the back of my head, I foolishly think to myself: I’m just a black man who goes jogging!
“Someone will shoot me just because I’m black and unfamiliar? I’m a former EMT. … I’ve been a licensed attorney and active duty army officer for nine years. I have represented over 60 sexual assault victims and Has helped them. ” .. I helped justify the destruction of hundreds of enemy bases in Iraq. I have cleared the names of wrongly convicted criminals. Who would want to hurt me?
“Well, none of it matters because … I’m still a black man who jogs. If I scare the wrong white person, or match the description of someone threatening … . I am no different from Ahmed Amber. “
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Turner said he did not post about the shooting. But then he watched the video.
“I could only see it once,” he said. “Watching against being killed just for jogging … It snatches away another piece of our lives. We have to be in constant fear or be cautious. I’ve taken my wife’s concerns about me . It’s a fear. Now I make it a point to go out walking in the neighborhood with my family so people can see that I’m a husband and family man and there’s no danger. Maybe they’ll remember me. “
Backai, who cried after watching the video of the shooting, said: “As a runner, I understand how Ahmed will stop and be seen in a house that is being built. That’s what we do – we take in our surroundings . Jogging is freedom. I recently made a different route on my run and I stopped and thought about Ahmud. And I said, ‘Let me go from here.’ It should not be like this. “
And yet, some runners hope that it will be different anytime soon. Erby’s life and especially his death will echo for some time.
“Ahmed and I ran a lot together,” Baker said. “He kept pace better than me, but he always encouraged me and inspired me to be more difficult. His skin was probably black, but he was the brightest light. His smile and energy was always bright. And we got people Have to make sure. Always know that
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