I jog most every morning, shortly after I awake. It is a prayer exercise for me. I don’t wear ear buds and listen to books or music or workout stuff. While I am an extrovert, this is quiet time for me. In this COVID-19 season, I avoid getting near any other person, though I don’t see many out in the early morning. I don’t love jogging, but I like the solitude it offers me—and I keep thinking it is making me a little healthier, physically and spiritually. I like the discipline of a prayer jog before breakfast.
When I go jogging, I don’t think for a moment that I will possibly become a target. I am a white male, an old white male. The neighborhoods in which I jog are majority white. People seeing me jogging aren’t filled with fear, at least not in the way they might be if they see a young, black male jogging. I do not raise suspicions by jogging.
The United States has learned in the last few days about a young, black man named Aumaud Arbery. He was shot to death while jogging two and a half months ago in southeastern Georgia. Maybe that made the local news for a day in that area, but it didn’t go further. For 74 days, no one was arrested. Now two white men, a father and son, have been arrested. Several law officials recused themselves from the case, because one of the alleged murderers is a former police officer in that department. And his son, the other alleged murderer, has worked with adult children of other law enforcement officials. It kind of feels like the system is taking care of its own.
No arrests were made for 74 days. Then a video went viral and caught the attention of the nation. Rather suddenly, Georgia law enforcement arrested two men. Why, after 74 days? If that video hadn’t become public, do we think any arrests would ever have been made? After all, Arbery was a young, black man. That day, February 23, 2020, he was unarmed and jogging at midday. In broad daylight. Not bothering anyone. He was guilty of being a young, black man jogging, presumably where white people lived. How dare he. Is it coincidence that after 74 days of no arrests, a whistle-blowing video clip is made public and the law seems to know whom to arrest right away?
When I go jogging, I don’t even think my life is in danger. If I go for a short drive and forget to bring my ID, I don’t even think I’ll get in trouble. I am a white male in a country in which it is safer to be a white male. The justice system favors white people over black people or other people of color. The justice system favors the wealthy over the poor. A wealthy, guilty person generally gets a better break from the law than a poor, innocent person. I don’t need to pull out the statistic in this brief reflection. They are everywhere evident. Look how capital punishment is meted out. Look how prison sentences are determined. Look at a nation that finally elects a brilliant black man to its highest office, a man of integrity, and then millions of its people question his citizenship. Look at a nation that needed a bloody five-year uncivil war to deal with its longstanding institution of the slavery of black people for economic purposes. And when that war finally ended, a century of Jim Crow laws and public lynchings of black people began. Our lofty ideal of justice being blind is not our reality.
I am a child of this nation and its terrible legacy of racism. Growing up in Los Angeles, my parents followed the pattern called “white flight.” (I say it with shame. My parents were wonderful, loving people, but this reality was unmistakable.) When people of color, mainly blacks, moved into our neighborhood, we moved out. Because property values would fall, of course. And the schools would decline. I am a child of white privilege. My path in American life has been easier than it is for blacks and other people of color. There is no arguing this; it is so.
I saw a video message from Pastor Bryan Wilkerson of Grace Chapel, Lexington MA, earlier today. He too is a jogger and a white male. He too is now jogging with Aumaud Arbery on his heart. He quoted from Isaiah 59:14-16:
So justice is driven back,
and righteousness stands at a distance;
truth has stumbled in the streets,
honesty cannot enter.
Truth is nowhere to be found,
and whoever shuns evil becomes a prey.
The Lord looked and was displeased
that there was no justice.
He saw that there was no one,
he was appalled that there was no one to intervene….
This morning when I went jogging, it was with a deep awareness that my life is not on the line when I go jogging, because I am a white person. And it was with heaviness of heart at the death of Aumaud Arbery. Will there be no one to intervene?