Safety City in Druid Hill Park

Sunday was my long run, and I was so grateful for the drop in humidity from Saturday. I put in my head that I’d go five miles, but would check in at three and see if my body wanted to keep going. It was only 70 degrees, but when there’s no shade, it gets hot fast. I loaded up both water pouches, put on my running vest, and headed out.

Some runs feel terrible, and some feel great, and this one, thank goodness, was one that felt great. I headed to Wyman Park Dell, did a loop with my mask pulled up because it was packed, and then headed over to Druid Hill Park.

I love that park. I love riding my bike around it, but these days I love running through it. Sunday felt especially lovely, because it was packed (in a socially distanced way). Every tennis court was in use. So many people were taking their bikes off their cars to go for rides. I passed group after group of people walking together, gathering in shady spots in wide circles, running together, bird watching, doing body weight exercises near the fitness equipment, and just generally enjoying the day.

The world is so complicated right now. It is scary, uncertain, hopeful, exciting, so much. And this morning in the park was a reminder that the world is also filled with joy and pleasure and play.

I did my usual loop, up past Safety City and around, shooting back out at the pool before heading to the reservoir to run over to the Big Jump to head back down to Remington. I stopped to snap this picture of Safety City and also catch my breath from the climb up there. I love Safety City. It’s a kid-sized streetscape that teaches kids how to do things like cross the street without getting killed by drivers. When I type it out like that it sounds kind of terrible, but hey, we’ve all got to learn what red lights and walk signals mean, even if we know they aren’t enough to keep us safe.

I thought about this on the rest of my run, this idea of “safety.” Safety City makes safety the job of each individual to obey the signs and signals. Structurally, safety is also produced by road design that slows drivers, and as it turns out, this is much more important than what any of us learn about crosswalks. If a road is designed with few bumps to slow down drivers, they drive as fast as they can. I hate that drivers do this, but I also understand that a lot of it has to do with the design of the road itself.

In other words, Safety City has to be designed to be safe. We can’t just rely on individual people to make individual choices that are in line with safe outcomes.

And then I thought about what safety means in the context of what’s happened over the past couple of weeks, and how the fastest response to any argument about abolishing the police or prisons is always, “But what about our safety?” I teach about this stuff all the time, and that’s always the first response. What about rapists? Murderers? The questions are usually posed incredulously, as if there’s no answer to these harms other than our carceral ones.

I ask students, what does safety feel like? What does it take to be “safe?” The answers are never more cops, and when pushed, most will admit that pouring a zillion bucks into policing and prisons has done nothing to stop sexual violence, for example. If we know those systems don’t keep people safe, and are a source of intense violence against so many of us, why are we incredulous when asked to imagine a world without them? Me, I’m incredulous that anyone thinks putting our resources in systems designed to give an illusion of safety for some on the back of incredible violence against so many is a good idea.

Then we talk about root causes of these violences we can’t imagine not having cops to call about. That’s a big conversation, because it turns out there are a lot of complex reasons people kill, abuse, violate, and harm. There’s no easy answer, but if you make a web of reasons, you’ll see a lot of places to intervene to build a world without those harms. Police and prison just go for the act itself, and pile more violence on top of it. It doesn’t work. Or, rather, it works like it’s designed, but that design isn’t to keep any of us genuinely safe. Roland Park is designed to drive like a freeway. Giving people some speeding tickets might decrease the danger a little, but a real solution would be a total redesign.

So many people have worked for so long on what redesigning our worlds to increase safety and security for all would look like. It would look like everyone’s basic needs being met, for starters, but there’s so much more. I think many first exposed to the idea of abolishing prisons or police think it’s scary, or it’s just so “out there” it’s impossible. But it’s not. The world we have is not enough. Too many people die too soon. We need a different world, and abolitionist organizing and imagination–that’s the world I want. People are building it, they’ve been building it, and this moment seems to have exposed so many new levers for change. It’s exciting. And there are no guarantees.

I took a few minute break on my run after the Safety City loop to decide if my body wanted to keep running. It did, so I did, and it just felt so good to be alive, under the sunshine, sharing space with so many other Baltimoreans, horizons looking different and hopeful and new. What a gift of a day.

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