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  • David Bernhart

Running in Memphis

If my girlfriend Laurie told me she was going to start jogging alone through our neighborhood before dawn, would I be out of line in expressing apprehension? Though we live in one of California's safest communities and any form of regular exercise is beneficial, I would still urge Laurie not to run by herself and/or to run during daylight hours. Don't tell anybody I said so, but I believe a female alone is more vulnerable to being targeted for street crime than a male alone or multiple females together.



On the 2nd of September, a 34-year-old Memphis, Tenn., teacher and mother of two, Eliza Fletcher, was kidnapped and shot to death while on her regular eight-mile early morning run near the University of Memphis. A 38-year-old man who spotted Fletcher from his car as she jogged has been charged with her murder and, if he is found guilty, I hope very much that he never takes a breath of free air again.


That said ...


Fletcher left her home to begin the run at 4:00 a.m., technically early morning, of course, but in the real world, 4:00 a.m. is also the middle of the night. Sunrise was still more than two hours away when Fletcher was abducted at about 4:20. It warrants no place in the case that will play out in court against the accused, but I can't help wondering if the victim's husband or someone else in her life ever suggested that jogging by herself along dark streets might not be a good idea. While Memphis has many splendid qualities, it has long been plagued by one of the highest crime rates in America.


This is a radio ad currently airing for Dove Dry Spray Antiperspirant for men:


static.wixstatic.com/mp3/c9e986_22c3c86def4b4b9bbd8eeeb185eab4e2.mp3



Yeah, it's a dumb deodorant commercial, but it's not stupid. As with all highly processed advertising, every word, every comma, every inflection is carefully tailored to create the image that the manufacturer of Dove wants implanted in the minds of listeners:


  • "Greg" wakes up at 5:00, a full hour closer to dawn than the time by which Eliza Fletcher had already begun her run. To be out the door by 4:00, Eliza would have awakened even earlier, in contrast to Greg, who is safe in bed until at least 5:00 and perhaps beyond. The ad copy doesn't state that Greg is jogging at 5:00 or even gets out of bed at 5:00, only that he wakes up then. If he doesn't rush to get the coffee going for his wife, his run may begin significantly later.

  • Sure enough, at the :04 mark, we hear Greg's footfalls as he jogs from left to right accompanied by the sound of birds chirping, a cue to listeners that the sun has risen or will shortly. Undoubtedly, the producers of the spot considered that a husband and father running through the neighborhood in pitch darkness could land wrong, if only subliminally, with potential consumers of the product.

  • Greg is a man with a deep voice. Toward the end of the commercial, he emphasizes that it was "another great day taking care of them and taking care of me," thanks to Dove antiperspirant, obviously. And one way he takes care of his family and himself is by not appearing an easy mark to thugs as he jogs down the street. For all the changes in gender roles over our lifetimes, one unchanged fact is that nothing sells strength and confidence like a man with a deep voice.


One week after Eliza Fletcher's murder, some two thousand runners gathered at 4:20 a.m. at the intersection in Memphis where she was abducted to symbolically finish her run. Thousands more did the same in cities around the country. Danielle Heineman, one of the organizers of the Memphis event, said, "My thought was that a few of us would go out and we would just kind of stand up and say, you know what, I am running at 4:00 in the morning and nobody is going to stop us from doing that." Added another participant, "Anyone should be able to run any time of day and feel safe."



There are lessons to be learned from this tragedy; I'm not persuaded that doubling down on the unquestioned right to run anywhere at any time should be among them. Anticipating one's surroundings a little more thoughtfully strikes me as a smarter takeaway.

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