Somehow I used to believe that if I tried hard enough I could understand how other people feel, think, and the reasons behind their actions an choices. I now see that it isn’t possible, I can’t step into someone else’s skin or brain and thus will never feel their emotions, even when I am having emotions described by the same words. But it is crucial that I continue to try, and then try harder. I accept that I can only get closer to understanding. In this life, it will always be beyond reach.
I have been giving a lot of thought to recent horrific events. George Floyd and how his life was cut short. Breonna Taylor, shot and killed in her own home when police broke in with a no knock warrant. I continue to think of Ahmaud Arbery, the black man that was murdered while out running.
I am a runner and in my small town I often run alone. I realize that this comes with risks but it isn’t always easy to find a running partner that runs your pace, distance and at times that fits your schedule. Running is part of my life and even though I don’t like the risk, for me, I accept it and take measures to be safe. Until February I thought I was more at risk because I am a woman. I wrong.
In the summer of 2017, at the time I was training for a marathon, an elderly woman from my small town was brutally raped and murdered while cleaning at her church. The murderer, a relatively young white man, wasn’t apprehended for quite a long time.
I am not good at running in the heat of the day. The only way I was able to tolerate running for 4-5 hours non-stop, was to begin it 4:00 a.m. while the air was still relatively cool. I own a licensed gun and have a permit to carry it concealed. I tried different holsters but the small amount of movement and thus friction would inevitably rub my skin raw. After trying different things I discovered a belt holster that I could attach to my hydration belt and wear over my shirt which caused no skin irritaton.
I was self-conscious the first few times I ran with a gun in plain sight. I imagined what I would do if stopped by the police and questioned about the gun. I even thought about what movements I would make to ensure the officer(s) would know that I had no intention of firing my weapon at them. I knew, that if approached by police I would stop running and put my hands on my head to make it clear that I was not a threat. I actually practiced it in my mind.
The reality is that the police did see me out running and they did see the gun. Again, it is a small town, so I assume that they: 1. Figured I was “packing heat”, for self-protection in light of the recent unsolved murder. 2. Didn’t question me because I legally had a right (in the state of Kentucky) to open carry my weapon, even if I didn’t have a license to conceal it. Honestly, I don’t think I ever got a second glance from the police. That was okay since my motive was safety not dramatic attention. Okay, so maybe it hurt my ego just a little because instead of being viewed as a bad-ass runner-chick I was more of a harmless old lady out jogging.
A few days ago I was smacked with a realization that I honestly had not thought about in the past. If I had been a black man, rather than a white woman I would have been putting myself in greater danger by running before sunrise with a gun in plain sight.
I can’t claim to understand what it is like to be black. I can only live in my own skin and think with my own brain that is influenced by the sum of my life experiences and filtered through my values. But it gives me pause to realize that if I had been born black that I would have to think about things like stopping my run and putting my hands in the air anytime I was approached by the police. It wouldn’t matter if the sun was shining. I would have had to have conversations with my children that were nothing like the talks I had with my son about how to behave if approached by the police. I don’t know how a parent teaches their child that the police have a duty to protect us but that we also have to be extra careful when they approach us.
I am not anti-law enforcement. I feel pride when I say that my father was a police officer for almost twenty years. My sister was an Army M.P. as was her husband. After they finished their tours of duty they settled in New Jersey where he became a state trooper and she joined the local police force. My son, while not currently working directly in law enforcement, has a degree in criminal justice. But the injustice and the murders have to stop.
Last night I went to my first public gathering since covid-19 locked down the country. There was a candlelight vigil held at the center of my small town. As a child I was taught to stay out of things that were not my concern and to mind my own business. I have had a wake up call. It is my business and I am very concerned when I look at what is happening in my country that is supposed to be the, “Land of the free and the home of the brave”. I put my mask on, social distanced within reason, and I was there. I didn’t change the world or do anything heroic but it felt good to put my values out in the open air. I saw a young woman holding a handmade sign that really rang true with the reason I felt compelled to attend. Her sign read, “White Silence Equals Violence”. It is my business and I am concerned!
I am proud of how things played out in my little town last night. I don’t know how many people attended the vigil but there were way more than I thought there would be. People showed respect to others. There was no violence or looting. The Chief of Police was there handing out candles. If there was any signs of hate or disrespect, I didn’t see or hear it. We didn’t change the world but I believe that in a small way we made it better.
Thanks for reading. Have a healthy, safe and blessed week my friends.