Salena Claybourne’s murder reminds us how the routine — getting gas — can be dangerous

Getting gas is my least favorite errand. As a woman, I often feel vulnerable. My message to men is: Leave women alone at the gas station.

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Salena Claybourne (left) and Antoine Moore Sr. with their daughters, Saiaan Claybourne (right) and Armoore Claybourne, 14 (center).

Salena Claybourne (left) and Antoine Moore Sr. with their daughters, Saiaan Claybourne (right) and Armoore Claybourne, 14 (center).

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Salena Claybourne has been on my mind every day for the past couple of weeks. Earlier this month she was killed in a botched carjacking at a gas station.

The mother of two daughters worked as a security guard for WGN-TV. On her way home from work, she stopped for gas at 67th and Jeffery in the South Shore neighborhood. According to news reports, she was inside her vehicle when a car pulled up and opened fire. At 3 p.m. on a Tuesday.

She was minding her own business, running an errand at a location about which I’ve heard other women say, “Oh, I know that gas station. I go there.” Claybourne’s death was random yet familiar.

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Getting gas is my least favorite errand — and not because of the recoil-inducing prices that are more than a latte per gallon. As a woman, I often feel vulnerable. Claybourne’s murder reminds us how the routine can be dangerous.

For me, gas stations represent unwanted attention that on the surface may seem innocent, but I worry about whether violence lurks. I don’t like men approaching me for spare change or asking to pump my gas. I don’t like men hitting on me from their driver’s side. I don’t like that I must be careful in my rejections so I’m not bothered more.

To be clear, I am not some model-like stunner whom men can’t resist at the gas station. Some men see flirting as complimentary, but I don’t appreciate my space being invaded, especially when those dealings veer toward harassment.While these are not consistent weekly interactions at gas stations, in general, I feel a certain level of discomfort far too often. There’s an aggressiveness that I’ve endured over the years. I think ahead about keeping myself safe, and I do mental checks such as not getting gas at night, putting my purse underneath the seat or paying attention to lighting.

I’m on alert. But recently I got caught slipping.

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Last month, I pulled into a gas station early one weekday morning after dropping my daughter off at school. The kiosk failed to take my credit card, so I had to walk inside. I noticed men noticing me. After I let the gas pump, I began cleaning my car as I normally do. I picked up old water bottles, kiddie chocolate milk containers and shards of kindergarten construction paper. As I bent over in the car, a man pulled up next to me and rolled down his window with a message. He said, stop leaning over like that in the car because someone could push you in and rob you. He added that people were watching me. I thanked him and pulled myself together.

Carjackings are a threat to Chicagoans regardless of gender. Last year, some City Council members promoted positive loitering and hiring private security at gas stations to help people feel safe. They heard from rattled residents who feared getting gas regardless of the time of day.

But here we are a year later, and private security guard Claybourne is murdered and her family is raising money to provide for children left behind.

Often women are told how to correct their behavior to stay safe, like I just described above. But my message to men is: Leave women alone at the gas station. We want to be left alone.

Natalie Moore is a reporter for WBEZ.

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