A white former pastor who ran miles through his Florida neighborhood while carrying a TV in support of Ahmad Arbery says he did so to prove a point: to show that inequalities and prejudices are still alive in the United States.
The killing of a 25-year-old black man who was followed and killed by two white men on Feb. 23 as he jogged through a Georgia neighborhood caused an outcry in communities across the nation.
On Friday, Richard Demsick joined the #RunWithMaud virtual protest that called for people to share videos of themselves running in solidarity of the slain jogger. Organized by civil rights activist Shaun King, the protest took place on May 8, which would have also been Arbery’s 26th birthday.
Thousands of people across social media participated in the virtual run, but Demsick wanted to take his protest up a notch to make a bigger impact.
“I thought I’d run with a TV because the biggest defense was that he looked suspect,” Demsick said.
He posted the video on TikTok of himself running through his Vero Beach neighborhood shirtless, wearing a backwards cap with a television clutched under his arm – and it went viral. The video has since been seen by millions of people.
Demsick said his only reservation in sharing the video was that he didn’t want African Americans to feel as if he was making light of Arbery’s death or their sufferings.
The pseudo-social experiment served as an example to show that his fate during a neighborhood run would most likely not reflect that of Arbery’s.
“I had no doubt that I was going to get any problems from the police or my neighbors. I had all these people that didn’t recognize me, never seen me before, I’d never seen them, smile and wave as I ran by with a TV.”
Demsick says he hopes that his now-viral effort doubles as a call to action for people in his community to not only be aware, but to also be a part of the solution and conversation.
“It’s time for us to get into the fight and say not only are we for black lives mattering, not only are we against black individuals being gunned down, we’re also for empowerment of African Americans to be able to have more opportunities,” Demsick said.
More than two months after Arbery’s killing, Gregory McMichael, who is a former police officer and district attorney’s investigator, and his son Travis were arrested and charged with felony murder and aggravated assault. The charges came after video of the shooting leaked online, causing the Georgia Bureau of Investigation to look deeper into the case and cellphone footage.