On May 25, two Minneapolis police officers responded to an incident at Cup Foods, a local grocery store, after someone allegedly attempted to use counterfeit bills. When they arrived, the two officers found someone who fit the given description and who also supposedly proceeded to “resist.” The rest of the story is all too familiar.
“I can’t breathe… I can’t breathe, officer.” These were some of the last words uttered from George Floyd’s lips, as one of the two officers depicted in the now infamous video murdered him with absolute indifference. As his voice grew weaker and weaker, one could only remember the voice of Eric Garner, whose death triggered the creation of the Black Lives Matter movement.
For me or anyone who shares the same reality as George Floyd and Eric Garner, this sort of disproportionate use of force isn’t anything new.
It’s the same reality that prevented an officer in Cleveland from recognizing the innocence of 12-year-old Tamir Rice, when he gunned him down because he had a toy in his hand. It’s the same reality that prevents black victims of domestic violence from calling police, even in life threatening situations. It’s the same reality that prevents doctors from believing black women when they plead for various treatments during childbirth causing them to be three times more likely to perish while bringing new life into this world.
It’s the same reality that deprived Trayvon Martin of his life, when he made the egregious mistake of being a black boy and having a hoodie on his head. It’s that same reality which prompted the movement for civil rights, after a white woman lied about being cat called by 14-year-old Emmett Till, which caused a group of grown men to drag him out of his home in the middle of the night, viciously murder him and throw his body in the Tallahatchie River.
That reality is being black in America. A reality that causes black matriarchs, including my own mother, to go over the unwritten rules of police interaction before we’re even mature enough to understand why— A reality that doesn’t grant us any recognition of our humanity or basic agency.
In the video, an off-screen witness could be heard saying, “He is human, bro.” Another could be heard saying, “check for a pulse, please.” While another woman says, “They just killed that man.”
The officer, however, didn’t flinch and continued to slowly do away with Floyd’s existence, as the other officer shooed the crowds away like a group of pests.
At the time of this writing, Minneapolis is still ablaze in the heat of inextinguishable passion. Even in the face of a global health crisis, protesters have sacrificed their well being because people are tired. As a community, as citizens and as taxpayers, WE are tired of being abused by the very people who swore an oath to protect and serve everyone.
The situation in Minneapolis as well as the national unrest will not improve until both officers are brought to trial. These riots, however, are only an immediate reaction to the brutal murder of Floyd. The question remains: how do we move to make fundamental shifts in police practice and prevent more senseless deaths?
In my opinion, it should begin with using this unfortunate event as a catalyst for making systematic changes to the criminal justice system and a fundamental shift in American culture. Just like the loss of Emmett Till prompted the creation of the Civil Rights Movement, we should organize to make sure that George Floyd will be the last unarmed black body mercilessly taken from their family.
If you are someone who cares about environmental justice, immigration, criminal justice and fighting for disenfranchised groups, you must understand that these issues are intersectional.
The civil rights movement’s success can be attributed to great leaders understanding how to build an inclusive movement. Dr. King’s final efforts, which he didn’t live to see through, were the poor people’s movement and his great opposition to the Vietnam War. Both issues weren’t black or white issues, as they affected most disenfranchised groups and the working class.
We must also understand the opportunity that is in front of us during this election season. The Democratic party relies on people of color to advance their candidates and agenda. We mustn’t be pressured into electing representation that doesn’t feel indebted to our cause.
As young people, we must continue to use social media as a bull horn and bypass the mainstream consensus. We mustn’t be afraid to engage in acts of civil disobedience and protest.
Finally, this work must be done as a single and cohesive unit.
I am willing and prepared to fight for the various injustices that exist, in spite of whatever particular racial group is being affected— And I hope you are as well.