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Fatal shooting of an unarmed Black jogger prompts Philly area athletes to run in his honor

In this Tuesday, May 5, 2020, photo, a crowd marches through a neighborhood in Brunswick, Ga. They were demanding answers in the death of Ahmaud Arbery. (Bobby Haven/The Brunswick News via AP)

In this Tuesday, May 5, 2020, photo, a crowd marches through a neighborhood in Brunswick, Ga. They were demanding answers in the death of Ahmaud Arbery. (Bobby Haven/The Brunswick News via AP)

Updated at 9:15 p.m.

The fatal February shooting of unarmed Georgia jogger Ahmaud Arbery, 25, has struck a nerve with Philadelphia’s running community. On Friday, Arbery’s birthday, dozens of area athletes plan to run 2.23 miles in their neighborhoods — separately to maintain social distancing measures, but in solidarity with one of their own.

Arbery was close to his home when a white father, Gregory McMichael and his son Travis got firearms and started following him. In their account to police, the two men said Arbery looked like someone suspected for recent break-ins in the area. The McMichaels claim Arbery fought Travis for his shotgun and that’s why the younger McMichael shot him.

The Georgia Bureau of Investigation announced Thursday evening the father and son involved in Arbery’s shooting have been arrested and charged with murder and aggravated assault.

For Lorraine Wilson-Drake, who lives in Cherry Hill, New Jersey and works in South Philly, the profiling of a Black athlete feels familiar.

Wilson-Drake is Black, a triathlete and a five-time marathoner, who is planning to participate in the “I Run With Maud” event.

Her bicycle training sometimes takes her outside Cherry Hill and into neighboring Medford, where the roads are smoother. She said harassment isn’t out of the norm.

“People yell stuff out of the window to us that’s very clearly racist and very clearly like, ‘Why are you in our community?’”

Arbery’s death is particularly harrowing because it is another instance of a young Black man being judged too quickly, no matter where they are in the country.

It’s especially concerning to Wilson-Drake, the mother 16-year-old son who inherited her athleticism and often runs to stay fit for basketball. Her son also has some communication deficits because of his high functioning autism.

“When you’re the mother of an African American son, as soon as you see one of these things, your heart just like, really just sinks — it kills you,” she said, “because you’re immediately like, ‘That could be my guy.’”

Friday’s national run/walk won’t bring Arbery back, but Wilson-Drake said it can help raise the profile of his case across the country.

It took more than two months for authorities to file charges.

The prosecutor who would normally have taken on the case had to recuse herself because Gregory McMichael worked in her office. The district attorney also recused himself, leaving the state’s attorney general the task of assigning a prosecutor.

The case received national attention this week when cell phone video showed a portion of the altercation.

“As runners, that’s what we do — we run outdoors, many times in new places to break up the monotony,” said Philly runner Petrina McFarlane. “We don’t expect that when we run, we will be killed. Unfortunately for Black people, we know that this is the reality that we face. Every day. Running or not.”

Like Wilson-Drake, McFarlane has been posting about the virtual run/walk/jog in her local running groups.

Throughout the day Thursday, dozens of runners committed to run for “Maud” with comments like “I’m in” or raised hand emojis.

Wilson-Drake, who in her long athletic career has attended her fair share of South Jersey and Philly running and triathlete club events, hopes the tragedy can spark an internal dialogue about diversity and inclusion.

Running clubs have historically lacked diversity, prompting people of color to start their own, such as Black Girls Run and the Black Triathletes Association.

“You gotta be really confident to show up to a running group and be the Black person there,” said Wilson-Drake.

The prosecutor who would normally have taken on the case had to recuse herself because Gregory McMichael worked in her office. The district attorney also recused himself, leaving the state’s attorney general the task of assigning a prosecutor who said he plans to convene a grand jury when courts reopen.

The case received national attention this week when cell phone video showed a portion of the altercation.

“As runners, that’s what we do — we run outdoors, many times in new places to break up the monotony,” said Philly runner Petrina McFarlane. “We don’t expect that when we run, we will be killed. Unfortunately for Black people, we know that this is the reality that we face. Every day. Running or not.”

Like Wilson-Drake, McFarlane has been posting about the virtual run/walk/jog in her local running groups.

Throughout the day Thursday, dozens of runners committed to run for “Maud” with comments like “I’m in” or raised hand emojis.

Wilson-Drake, who in her long athletic career has attended her fair share of South Jersey and Philly running and triathlete club events, hopes the tragedy can spark an internal dialogue about diversity and inclusion.

Running clubs have historically lacked diversity, prompting people of color to start their own, such as Black Girls Run and the Black Triathletes Association.

“You gotta be really confident to show up to a running group and be the Black person there,” Wilson-Drake said.

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