When I watched the video recording of the brutal, inhuman, heartless, cold-blooded murder of George Floyd, I felt a painful numbness deep within my soul. I said to myself, oooh no, not again. But somehow, in my spirit, I was expecting it. It’s sad to admit that I was waiting for another brother to be killed by the police. I didn’t know where or when it would happen, but I knew it was imminent. Time had gone by too long without hearing about another state-sanctioned police killing of black life. There may have been other police killings somewhere around the country, but they haven’t made the national news like this one.
The video recording shows a white police officer with his knee planted firmly on the neck of an un-armed handcuffed black man while he laid on the ground. The black man is grunting and groaning in anguish and pain, calling for his deceased mother and saying, “please, please, please, I can’t breathe.” The callous indifference to Mr. Floyd’s life by the officer that held Floyd on the ground had his hands in his pocket with the look of hate on his face. The officer glared at the onlooking crowd, and at the bystander who was recording the brutal assault with eyes filled with a complete lack of feeling or concern for the life he slowly extinguished. The officer held Floyd to the ground with his knee on his neck for eight minutes until Floyd became unconscious. All who observed the murder of George Floyd in person and by video recording watched in horror as Floyd was slowly executed right in front of our eyes.
The murder of George Floyd is reminiscent of the killing of Eric Garner, the unarmed black man who died after being choked to death by a New York police officer in 2014. Garner’s dying words “I can’t breathe” has become a powerful rally phrase used in our protest against police brutality today. The grand jury in the death of Garner declined to prosecute the officers responsible for his death. However, New York City Police Commissioner, James O’ Neil, said in a BBC News article, the mobile phone video of Garner’s death clearly shows the officer used a chokehold banned by the New Your Police Department.
I think that the March 3, 1991, savage beating of Rodney King was a watershed moment that forever changed the relationship between black people and the police in America. King, an African American man, was violently beaten by four Los Angeles policemen – three of them white.
The beating and killing of black people by police are not a new occurrence. On the contrary, during Jim Crow and the civil rights movement, African Americans were routinely attacked by police dogs while peacefully demonstrating for the right to vote. But the brutal beating of Rodney Kings was captured on camera by a bystander and widely broadcasted for the world to see. It was the first time in history Americans and the world witnessed the real-life savage beating of a black man by police. It was shocking and disturbing.
According to Britannica.com, “…. brutality against African Americans had become a more serious problem in many urban areas by the mid 20th century. Most whites remained unaware of it until about the mid-1960s, in large part because most large-city newspapers did not consider it newsworthy.”
Britannica also says, “incidents of police brutality against African Americans became more frequent and more intense throughout the country in the decades following World War II.”
The acquittal of the police of all charges in the Rodney King beating (as witnessed by the world) lead to the 1992 Los Angeles riots, which is considered the worst race riots in American history. The pain was so palpable you could cut it with a butter-knife. Black and white people all over America were bewildered by the acquittals of the officers. Anyone can see that those officers were guilty. But justice was denied, and people didn’t know what to do with the pain. So, black people expressed it through protest and anti-brutality demonstrations against a system they knew deep down inside was unjust. However, they didn’t realize how unfair it was until the verdict.
Police brutality against black communities happens so frequently that we hardly get a chance to mourn one awful slaying of black life before police once again take another. The pain and anguish we feel with each murder seem to have become a way of life. We have, in some strange way, learned to live with the pain. And have sadly grown accustomed to police killing us with impunity. Too many of us wonder if our life matters.
We naively look to the same structural system that sanctions and abet the genocide of black people for justice and redress. But justice hardly ever comes. With each tragic death, we say to ourselves; this time will be it. It’s all on video for the world to see. No person who is sane or rational after watched the disturbing video would conclude that our loved ones (e.g. Brother, sister, son, daughter, mom, dad, grandma, or grandpa) were responsible for their own death. Or that the officers or a white civilian who killed them were justified in doing so.
First Eric Garner and now George Ford, both black men murdered while groaning, “I can’t breathe,” with a police officer slowly choking the breath out of them. If breathing is essential for life, then the choking deaths of Eric Garner and George Floyd, and act of a white woman in Central Park who weaponized her racism that would have potentially cost a black man his life, merely breathing, while at the same time, being black is punishable by death in America.
I’m in wait-to-see mode, not hoping or expecting justice in the death of George Ford. Justice will be great but won’t resolve state sanctioned lynching of black lives by police.
What is our breaking point? When will we say enough is enough? What will it take for black people to be viewed as human in America?
America will face a day of reckoning because of its treatment of black people. And the world will be watching.
“until the killing of black men, black mothers’ sons, becomes as important to the rest of the country as the killing of a white mother’s son, we who believe in freedom cannot rest until this happens.” -Ella Baker