No Racist Police Sign on the Pedestrian Bridge to Druid Hill Park

No Racist Police Sign on the Pedestrian Bridge to Druid Hill Park

I went for a run on Sunday. I had 8 miles on my calendar, but it was hot and sunny, my legs were heavy, and I kept having to stop and walk to keep my heart rate under control. Three miles in and I was calling my sister for permission to stop running, turn around, and walk home. I bailed on my run. Running is a mental game, and bailing felt like a betrayal of the mental work I’ve put into running over the past year, but my body didn’t care what my training plan wanted. It needed to walk. So I did, but even then I started running again a few times on the way home. I thought I’d start running again and it’d feel good, but instead I just had to make the decision to bail a couple more times as I had to stop and walk.

I can be kind of intense about my hobbies.

Tuesday’s run was a bit tough to start, because what if after giving up on Sunday I couldn’t actually run anymore? Turns out I could–cloud cover and five degrees make a big difference. I ran my usual 5+ mile route, over to Wyman Park Dell for a quick run around the oval before heading toward Druid Hill Park. There’s a person who sleeps there a lot of the time, a mattress under a tree for shade. If they’re awake, I say my how you doin’, but I’m usually a bit early for them. There was also a city truck parked on the oval–which is not for vehicles, but whatever. I kept my eye on it as I made my way, worried they’d try and disrupt the sleeper. They drove off, slowly but surely, and I made my way out and over and up toward Hopkins.

Public space is for public use, but only certain kinds of publics, and for certain kinds of uses. Whether you’re sitting or sleeping is a problem or not depends on who is seeing you and what you look like, and look like you are doing, to them. It has everything to do with race, perceived class, gender identity, sexuality–all those divisions that are used to distribute resources and life chances. The resource of public space is on my mind right now as cities tell people when they can and can’t go outside, and what they can do while they’re there. They do that all the time, but it’s in high relief right now.

I was getting into the groove of my run and hoping to keep it together for the uphill into Druid Hill Park. It is amazing to me that there’s not a better entrance for pedestrians entering the park from the east side, but that’s another blog post. I slowed myself down to keep enough energy to make it, slowly but surely, up the ramp. I stopped to take a picture of one of the signs someone has hung over the side of these ramps: No Racist Police.

I wondered who hung it, and if the city would have some bogus reason to say you can’t put that there. Public space is public, except when it isn’t. Do you have your permit to hang your sign? I’ll run over here in the next few days and see if someone’s taken it down.

I hope no one does. I read the sign as a provocation. No racist police. Is that even a possibility? The system of policing is itself racist, historically rooted in controlling the movement of Black people in public space. Could policing escape that history, be something else? I mean, maybe? But police have been controlling who can be where and for how long since the start, and that’s still a big part of their mission, so to ask if they could be something other than racist, well, that’s putting the ol’ cart before the horse, if you ask me.

The system is rooted in racism and white supremacy. That’s what policing has always been about, and it’s still what it’s about. The only way to have no racist police is to have no police.

I caught my breath from the break and continued my run up and through and around the park, taking the Big Jump back to Remington and gutting it through the last tough mile. I saw my neighbor L. out for a walk, stopped, shared a lovely socially distanced hello before making it the last blocks home. There is so much I miss about being in public space all the time with all kinds of people, together. And, we should abolish the police and use all the resources we pour into racist policing to make life, not death.

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