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I Can't Breathe

Updated: Jun 15, 2021

In the height of a pandemic in 2020, the George Floyd video was released. The complete and unedited version, courageously recorded by a teenager, popped up on my Facebook timeline, and I mindlessly clicked on it and watched it. I watched all of it… and immediately regretted it.

At the end of video, I cried. Sobs wracked my whole body, and then I was filled with rage! A rage that I had never felt before, and it scared me. I was drawn to the arrogant look on the officer’s face as he calmly ignored the pleading crowd of spectators that watched as he crushed the life from George Floyd’s body as he cried and pleaded for his life and called on his dead mother with his waning breath.

I heard the frustration and helplessness in the voices of the onlookers who could not intervene on his behalf. They pleaded over and over again for mercy for George Floyd. I watched the other officers try to shield and protect this gruesome act from the cameras and keep away any of the bystanders who dared try to help. They did nothing to stop their colleague from killing George Floyd.

photo credit: Obi Onyeador

I spent the next few weeks alternating between intense sadness and intense rage. I took a break from TV and social media as excerpts of the video replayed over and over. The nation was in an uproar. There were protests and riots. Breonna Taylor was killed at the hand of police earlier in the year. Ahmaud Arbery had been shot and killed by white men while jogging in their neighborhood. The Black Lives Matter cause was taken up by countless many and despised by others. I took to my bed and stayed under the covers until it was time to work (from home) or eat.

I was not raised here in the U.S, so I admit it has taken some time for me to fully comprehend the history of policing of people of color here in the U.S, and I probably still don’t. I had heard many stories about encounters with cops since my arrival here in 1980. I recently viewed countless videos of traffic stops and interactions with cops that should be uneventful turn into another person of color on the ground, being humiliated but happy to be alive or, worst-case scenario, dead, with no resulting repercussions for the murderer.

The officers were somehow all “in fear of their lives” while wielding their weapons against their unarmed victims, so it was ok. “Not guilty.” It seems to have become our job to make them less ‘in fear of their lives, for us to walk away from a simple traffic stop. So, we hold training sessions in our homes and in our churches, teaching our Black men, in particular, how to survive a simple traffic stop. My heart was broken when my 60-year-old boyfriend said that every time a cop pulled up behind him, his heart raced, and he assumed it would be his last day on earth.

Now, on to the trial of the killer cop (I refuse to call his name) who murdered George Floyd. Honestly, while I hoped justice would be served this time, I was not hopeful. We had seen it too many times. I listened as the defense tried to make the jurors un-see and disregard the video.

My anger level rose again, and I had to stop watching the trial. In the past, I had been repulsed by the looters and those who turned peaceful protests into criminal acts of looting and destroying property in their neighborhoods. While I still don’t condone that response, I did come into a new understanding of how anger and hopelessness would make some people want to smash and destroy something - anything, to be seen or heard.

Many cities boarded-up businesses in advance of the verdict. The national guard, placed on stand-by in cities where riots were anticipated to occur, should the jury deliver a verdict of not guilty. The Black community across the world waited in anticipation with collective breaths held, hopeful that THIS TIME, the jury would get it right.

The verdict GUILTY!!!

One could almost hear the breaths exhale in unison across the world. Justice for George Floyd. You prefer this rather than justice for George Floyd AND on behalf of the countless numbers of Black victims that were murdered at the hands of police officers, they did not get their justice. As we await sentencing, we as people of color want to hope that this is the first step in the right direction. Only time will tell if it is safe to breathe again.

Say Their Names.

Can I Breathe, Now?

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