It happened again. Déjà vu. It’s Eric Garner all over again, but worse. A black man killed by police officers in plain sight, on full display with multiple witnesses and cameras rolling.
Did you see what we saw? Some police officers without masks or gloves approached George Floyd and other passengers in his car. George Floyd was placed in handcuffs. George Floyd did not resist arrest. George Floyd, while handcuffed and his face pressed against the pavement under the knee of a police officer said his stomach, chest and everything was hurting. George Floyd called out for his mother. George Floyd said repeatedly, “I can’t breathe.” Yet with arrogance, aggression and animus, officer Derek Chauvin placed his knee on George Floyd’s neck for 9 minutes. Chauvin adjusted his weight on George Floyd’s neck, with seemingly one aim — not to subdue or silence him, but to suffocate him. It was right there, on tape.
The death of a black person at the hands of white police officers in America is hard to watch. The imagery of it sears generational and psychological trauma on our consciousness.
George Floyd, son, father, brother and friend. On the ground, near the driver’s tire of a police car, there was a trial, conviction and a sentencing. The bailiff, jury and judge were embodied in one man, Derek Chauvin. In one unconscionable, egregious, unremorseful, merciless and barbaric act, George Floyd became a blameless, breathless, pulseless and lifeless emblem of what can happen to black people in the custody of police officers.
As we watched the suffering and torture of George Floyd, the tears welled up in our eyes and a lump rose in our throats. In disbelief, our minds raced with thoughts such as: “No value for our life. Cameras rolling didn’t stop them. No thought of repercussions. Asian American officers colluding. No sense of humanity. Not again. Hands in his pockets. They hate us. They want us dead. Racism. Who will protect us from the police?” Watching life slowly escape the body of George Floyd took our breath away.
The death of George Floyd was on the heels of Ahmaud Arbery’s murder. Less than 30 days ago, we watched the hunting down, trapping and shooting of a young black man at the hands of two white men, father and son. The false narratives and victim demonization tricks were used from their playbook to defend and cover up their actions. Any semblance of justice was denied and black Americans were insulted when an arrest was delayed for several days. When the father and son were arrested, and later a third co-conspirator, we took a deep breath and slowly exhaled until the George Floyd killing.
The reason that black America cannot breath is not because of the coronavirus. It is not because of an underlying illness such as asthma. Black America has been fighting a pandemic that far predates COVID-19. It is racism. Thanks to video cameras, racism has been unmasked in America.
We cannot breathe because we are incessantly under scrutiny and surveillance. We cannot breathe because we are constantly being watched, followed, tracked and profiled. We cannot breathe because for us, suspicion is an inescapable stalker. We are not treated as humans but instead like suspects, targets, animals, criminals and prey.
We cannot breathe because police reform was promised, vowed and pledged by countless leaders, only to have them broken, voided and annulled. The police, who are supposed to protect us, kill us. The judicial system that is supposed to be impartial fails us. During these horrid times, where we are harassed, hounded down and handcuffed, it seems like God himself has forsaken us.
Where is our shelter? Where is our refuge from such contemptible disdain and aversion to us?
Not only is it hard for black America to breathe, but it is hard to catch our breath. If the truth be told, some of us are hyperventilating because of the brazen, inhumane, intentional yet casual (hands in pocket) conduct of the police officer. So we wonder, if and when this will happen to our son, father, nephew, brother or friend.
A lot of people don’t want to talk about racism in these stark terms. Is it painful for black and white people to talk about this issue? Of course it is. However, if we don’t talk about it, we become passive participants in an unrighteous, immoral, culture with unchecked leaders seduced by privilege and drunken with power.
Theresa A. Dear is a strategist at The Human Capital Strategy Group and an NAACP national board member. Visit her website at theresaadear.com.
Correction: A previous version misspelled the name of Ahmaud Arbery as Ahmaud Aubrey.