The recent killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota, is just another, among dozens of attestations of systemic racism with which America’s social fabric is smudged. Like a cat hunts a mouse, the police, who ironically are supposed to protect and serve everyone, are more often than not an additional menace to black lives. The presumption of innocence until proven guilty is dictated by one’s skin color in the US.
Floyd’s murder was especially heinous. Picture this: you are arrested and handcuffed, roughly pushed into a police car through one door and pulled out through the other, with your hands handcuffed on your back you have little balance so you fall face down on the ground, a grown ruthless human places all their weight on you as they kneel on your neck for nearly nine minutes, the monster is not alone; his co-torturers apply tormenting pressure on the rest of your body. You plead for your life to be spared. “I can’t breathe,” you lament over and over. You beg for a drink of water—nothing. You call your already dead mother—nothing! “I am about to die,” you weakly proclaim. “Relax,” you are told.
Too weak, you can no longer utter a word or make movement. In the fading distance, you hear passersby pleading on your behalf. Their words, like yours earlier, land on deaf ears. An armed officer keeps people who display a hint of mercy on you at bay. You lose consciousness still under the knee. Deprived of air, you expire.
What crime merits such a death?
Floyd’s departing words, “I can’t breathe” are reminiscent of another black life that mattered too little to the law enforcers. About six years ago, multiple white police officers had held Eric Garner in a suffocating chokehold. With the words “I can’t breathe,” Eric pleaded for air. Eleven times he repeated the three haunting words. Ignored, he finally expired. Daniel Pantaleo, the officer who wrestled Garner to the ground and held him in the death-dealing chokehold for merely suspecting him to be selling illegal cigarettes was not indicted despite a medical examination demonstrating that Garner’s death resulted from the chokehold.
Far from being the only victims of police brutality against blacks in the “free world,” Floyd’s and Garner’s murders are a drop in the ocean. In 2016, Philando Castile, a black American, was driving with his partner and her four-year old daughter when he was pulled over by two police officers and shot seven times in the presence of the partner and the four-year-old. He succumbed to death minutes later. Five months after the incident, Jeronimo Yanez, the police officer who shot Castile, was charged with second degree manslaughter and two counts of dangerous discharge of a firearm only to be acquitted of all charges just five days after that!
Barely four months after Garner’s killing, Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old African American boy met the grim reaper in the person of yet another police officer. Rice’s crime was carrying a toy gun. Timothy Loehmann, Rice’s killer officer was never indicted.
Just three months earlier, Michael Brown another black American had been fatally shot multiple times after an altercation which by Michael’s friend’s account started when Darren Wilson, the killer officer, grabbed Michael by the neck, threatened and even shot at him. Wilson contradicted this account and, apparently, investigation into the matter corroborated his side of the story. He was cleared of any civil rights violations.
Trayvon Martin was shot and killed by George Zimmerman a member of a Sanford, Florida community watch in 2012. Zimmerman thought that Trayvon looked suspicious and after a squabble brought the latter’s 17 years life to an abrupt, cruel halt. Thanks to Florida’s “stand your ground law”, Zimmerman was acquitted in 2013.
It was in response to Trayvon Martin’s murderer’s acquittal that the #BlackLivesMatter movement was founded with the aim of eradicating white supremacy and empowering local communities to intervene in violence against black people who still endure untold misery around the Western world and particularly in the US. Lower chances for gainful employment, stereotypical labelling, less likelihood for a decent education, mortgage market discrimination… These are among the innumerable forces that fervently pull black people back as they strive to make strides forward. These forces, these systemic measures scream louder than any words about how much the system cares for black people. Unjust murders without consequence and expedients that relegate blacks to despondency deem black existence insignificant. We, Blacks, do not agree. We too matter!