What does it mean when a man says, “I can’t breathe”?
The air that sustains all of us cannot reach his lungs. They cannot inflate to extract the infusion of oxygen that we are all created to live on. When he says, “I can’t breathe” he is expressing a longing to live.
Then I see why he can’t breathe. Another man has his knee bearing most of his weight on the neck of the man on the ground. The man on the ground is black, the man with his knee on his neck is white.
The man on top is a police officer.
The man on the ground is black.
That’s all. Just black.
Now he’s dead. Because of a white man’s knee. Because he’s black.
That picture is the epitome of the relationship between the white and black races in America. Oppression due to perceived difference, based on fear, because of perceived difference. If the picture was black and white, and I had been told it was 100 years ago I would probably have said something to the effect that, “Fortunately we’ve come a long way from that.”
It isn’t from 100 years ago. It’s less than a month old as I write this. If I made that statement in front of a black man he would have laughed in my face, and rightly so.
This man wasn’t doing anything at all that warranted him being arrested or detained, let alone killed.
There is extensive video evidence of the entire episode that clearly shows his lack of resistance.
It should never be acceptable that any person feels a threat to his or her life for simply walking out the front door of their home.
To fill up the car at a gas station.
To drive down any street.
To jog in the evening.
To stand in their own driveway talking.
Because he or she is black.
I’m white, and while I am not specifically responsible for the way the black man is treated based on the behaviors of my forefathers, I am present now. This makes me responsible for seeking change in the society of the present.
My crime is my silence.
Since this man died, I’ve read and heard countless stories of what a kind and peaceful man he became, and how he did so much to work with the youth in violent neighborhoods teaching them to live better lives. I’ve also seen stories of his criminal record, and that he had drugs in his system.
But I have a question: Why is it even necessary that he should have to have a “good life story” to make this a horrifying event? Why do we feel it necessary to justify his life? On the other side of that, how does showing a past criminal record have anything to do with the events leading up to, and the moment of, his death. This would have been just as horrifying if it had been someone else - “just a normal guy” – because he’s black.
No, George Floyd was not a saint, and neither is anyone else. Yes, he did some things very wrong in the past, like many of us. But none of that mattered one way or the other in the moment that he should not have died. George Floyd did not resist, right up to the moment of his death. He didn’t struggle violently. He didn’t even curse. I keep wondering what he was thinking in this whole process. As he struggled to move in a way that would allow any breath at all, and as I watched the police officer dig his knee even harder into his neck. I watched again as they taunted him to get up while he was pinned down by three officers while he did not struggle. Was he thinking, “I keep telling these kids they need to seek change peacefully, so I have to keep it together.” Then as the situation progressed, with his lungs demanding oxygen, “Keep it together, everyone is watching. Be the example.” Then again as he faded out and died, “Please make it worth it.”, and finally, “Mama, Mama.”
I’m white. I feel relatively safe in my world. I know there are those out there that might threaten my life at any random time. When I think about them, I don’t think about the color of their skin, and I never have to imagine that it might be a police officer.
Because I’m white.
Through this event many other events and processes have been triggered.
Protests have swept the country, many with riots where property was destroyed. Ironically, most of the rioters appear to be white. Some from Antifa, some from white supremacist groups, but all simply trying to sow more violence for their own ends. The protestors have, for the most part, been peaceful and are honestly trying to take this opportunity to help us see the need for change from their perspective.
Police across the country have sought to support the Black community, sometimes even marching with them as they protest. They detest what the officers involved did, and they have promised change.
They always walk a very fine line, but more so right now. Under threat for something they didn’t collectively do, but nonetheless having to deal with the responsibility for it. Doing their jobs and wondering if they will die for it.
It seems ironic as I look at that statement that it may be a similar situation for the average black man in America. They walk a fine line as well. They are under threat when they walk out of their house. Some, like Breonna Taylor, didn’t even have to get out of bed. So, a black person has to wonder on a daily basis if they will die for being black.
All this because their skin is a different color. Being black is not a chosen profession. They don’t have a choice in the color of their skin, but again, why should that even make a difference? More disturbing to me is the way many people I know have defended these deaths as legitimate.
When they try to deflect the response by saying, “Where’s the outrage because this other person died?” I just want to say, “Because no one cared enough for him or her in their own community to be outraged about it.” That is the fault of the community that didn’t care enough for them to say something.
The black community cares for themselves, and that is not wrong. They are rightly outraged when they lose a member of their community whether they were a criminal or a saint. We in the white community could stand to learn something of that attitude.
But in the meantime, George Floyd is still just as dead as he was yesterday, and somehow, all of us need to come together into a peaceful union of hearts and minds. We need to acknowledge the sins of our forefathers, and make this society of ours right. Change has to occur, and it is never comfortable. It is easier to identify needed change in others, than it is to see the need in ourselves.
There’s a great deal more to say about this, but I’ll save it for the next post.
There are an inordinate number of people who respond to posts about this incident saying something like, “You need to take the log out of your own eye before you try to take the speck out of someone else’s eye!” I honestly don’t see how that applies here, but whenever I hear something like that (which, for the record, just makes you sound incoherent) I just go back and watch George Floyd die again.
No logs there.
Say his name!
©Dan Bode 2020