By Pat Priest
A single, exasperating post on my neighborhood listserv recently made me think: We need to move! An older guy had written “Did they arrest the sign bearer?” when he heard about someone at a nearby Cracker Barrel protesting police brutality. I wrote to say that that the protester had every right and reason to demonstrate, and I would have been out there, too, if not for the pandemic. But it was another neighbor, a black man, whose response made me weep. I’m including a bit of what he wrote here with permission. He revealed that he had curtailed his morning walks in the neighborhood after an alert went out that someone suspicious had been seen one night near a neighbor’s home. He knew there would be more patrols by sheriff’s deputies who might stop and question him, and he knew he could be killed. He wrote that he thinks Sheriff Berry is a good man, but he wasn’t sure if his deputies are. He added: “Fear is a daily load we carry.” That plaintive message – and events happening around the country and world – really hit home for a lot of people in our subdivision. After checking in with his wife to see if it would be okay, I asked neighbors to join us to surprise him one night on our weekly jaunt with him. He was quite moved to find about thirty people gathered, smiling, when he stepped out of the house! Trying to social distance, we walked about a mile together, picking up people along the way and passing one neighbor who had had knee surgery who sat in his front yard to show his support. The man we joined on the walk said later it was the first time in 15 years he really felt a part of the neighborhood. How tragic! Another black neighbor told me that when her husband had become quite ill, she had been worried sick that her son might be stopped — and hurt — in the neighborhood when driving from Atlanta late one night as the family gathered in concern for their dad. She said she prays every day for her family’s safety. (She gave me permission, too, to relate this information here.) While walking together that evening, people expressed dismay as we really, finally grappled with this longstanding reality for black people in our neighborhood and country. And while we all felt good, I think, to earnestly take part in that symbolic and easy show of support, there is much more that needs to be done. As I suggested to several neighbors as we walked, we also have to call our local law enforcement agencies to tell them never to stop people of color for simply walking or driving in our neighborhood – or anywhere. That stance is not because the person might be our neighbor, family member or friend but because they have as much right to drive or walk in our neighborhood as I have to be in yours. While our neighborhood may have implicitly asked for such policing, now we say: not in our name. Instead, police practices and other social institutions must ensure our cherished ideals of liberty and justice for all. Pat Priest is the creator of the annual concert “Athens in Harmony” and of WUGA’s Artists in Residence series. She holds a doctorate from UGA's Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication.