I love late-night walks when the world is asleep. I need the quiet; it’s critical for my mental health. I leave at all hours -- midnight, 2 a.m. -- and I've been doing this for years. We have trails buried in my north Austin neighborhood. They're pitch black and offer places to hide. I'll walk those, too, deep in thought, oblivious to the world around me. Do I keep visible? Maybe. I might wear a white shirt. Most of the time, I'm wearing all black because I don't own neon anything. No one has ever stopped me.
How many black men can walk through their Austin neighborhoods without the Nextdoor app blowing up or someone peeking through their window, checking everything out? A friend -- he’s black -- once told me he used his kids or the dog as props on his neighborhood walks, making sure that he was perceived as a "daddy" when all he wanted to do was get fresh air. These visual cues lessened the possibility that he would be perceived as up to no good. Even in liberal Austin, there are shrouded corners of low-key racism. No one should have to put in that much work to clear their head on a summer day.
And what about the things we wear? I think hoodies are the best clothing ever designed, but can a black man wear one without giving it a second thought? How do you explain to a child that they can't wear a comfortable, hooded sweatshirt because they might be perceived as a "thug?" Trayvon Martin was wearing a hoodie when he was killed by a man who claimed he thought he was a threat. Trayvon was only 17.
George Floyd was killed after being stopped by police over a counterfeit $20 bill. How many people have passed fake bills without knowing it? We use cash so rarely now, people assume it's real. But because it was a black man, the bill was checked.
Philando Castile was shot in "self-defense" after announcing he had a permit to legally carry a gun. He was killed with his seatbelt on and in front of his girlfriend's daughter. Javier Ambler lost his life after being pulled over by officers for not dimming his headlights. He wasn't drunk, and he wasn't speeding. He was just black. Like Floyd, he called out in pain, "I can't breathe." Moments later, after telling cops he had congestive heart failure, he was gone.
How perfect does a black man need to be?
I can drive fast and roll through stop signs. How many black men get their cars tossed for less? How many wind up with a club against their throat? I won't get killed. I'm not a threat. I benefit from white privilege.
Breonna Taylor, an EMT, was asleep when cops broke down her door and killed her in the middle of the night. She was shot eight times. Have you ever worried about getting killed for sleeping?
It’s time to stand up and say enough is enough. Let’s work together to clean up this mess. We need to stand up for our friends and our co-workers and the people we don’t know personally. All voices need to be heard.
Take action in your community. We can affect change just by speaking up. Amplify voices of color, give credit for their good ideas, challenge government on zoning, gerrymandering, and gentrification.
This is in our hands. If you hear someone being racist, stop them. Humanity deserves better.
We live in one of the best cities on earth, but it has its flaws. Austin can be better. It can do more. We need to ensure this magical, loud, and colorful place is for everyone. If someone wants to go for a walk, there should be no fear. I'd love to join them. We can get in our steps together.
Dean is a writer and lives in Austin.