“i can’t breathe…”

“Please, please, please… I can’t breathe… somebody help me… please, knee on my neck, I can’t breathe… I can’t move…”

It has been five days since George Floyd was murdered in the custody of four police officers in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Yes, murdered is the correct term for it and if you’re not comfortable with that, you won’t be for the rest of the article either.

In the United States, African Americans are more than two times likely to lose their lives at the hands of police officers than white people are. This racial disparity has been displayed over and over throughout the years with every one of us bearing witness to police brutality against black communities: Tamir Rice, Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Freddie Gray, Breonna Taylor, Eric Garner, and more.

Don’t you find it ironic that the people who are tasked with the responsibility to protect the public and uphold the law are the very ones who don’t? We’ve been taught since young that police officers are people who keep peace and justice; however, the four officers involved in the Floyd case are not promoting peace and justice, but let me tell you what they are. They are racists. They are people who have committed a crime. They are indifferent to pleads of help. And they should be prosecuted accordingly.

If such a case happened only once in a decade, we would attribute it to the misjudgment of a single officer. But look at the numbers, look at the facts: more often than not, the African Americans whom police deem to be ‘dangerous’ are in possession of no weapons at all. They were unarmed. They had their hands above their heads. They asked for help. They asked why they were being arrested. Still, just a couple of hours later, they will have been reduced to another headline, another hashtag, another name remembered for the wrong reasons.

Cases of police brutality against black communities are scattered throughout the country in Ohio, Maryland, Florida, Minnesota, Missouri… and these are just the few that manage to make it into the news. Behind the curtain, without a doubt, more of these incidents are taking place.

The system is no longer punishing people for their crimes. We have done nothing in the face of injustice for so long that the system now thrives on reprimanding people for their race and ethnicity. It shouldn’t take so many lives over the course of so many years for us to realize that there is something severely twisted with the system, and it is our responsibility to fix it. We cannot allow our children and their children to live in a society where it’s okay for a white police officer to kneel on the neck of a black person, hear them plead for air, and still continue to crush them. We cannot stand back and let this happen again.

Firing officers after somebody has died is neither just nor fair. Try them for murder because that’s what it is; if you’re not willing to do that, then make sure these brutalities don’t happen in the first place. Police academy training averages at 22 weeks and the basic requirement is two years of college education – that’s all it takes for someone to exercise power in the name of peace and justice. For comparison, it takes 10 to 14 years to become a licensed doctor and 7 years to become a lawyer, both professions which also have to do with people’s lives. How is it we are willing to hand over a gun faster than a scalpel?

It’s not just about what law enforcement is presenting to the public eye; it is what people learn from it. Earlier in February, Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year-old African American, was minding his own business and jogging outside when he was later killed by two white men. Where do you think they got the idea from?

The same day that Floyd was murdered, Christian Cooper, a black man in Central Park asked a white woman to put her dog on a leash. He did this in a polite manner, imposing no threat whatsoever, as proven by a video recording. Yet, the woman called the police, saying: “I’m going to tell them there’s an African American man threatening my life.” What’s scary isn’t her lie or exaggeration; it was the confidence that she spoke with, as though she knew that her country’s racial injustice would favor her.

We are teaching black kids that when they jog in the neighborhood, take a stroll in the park, or purchase goods from a drugstore, they have to fear for their lives. We are teaching black kids that every goodbye they say to their families and friends could be their last. We are teaching black kids that the people who should help them have the power to hurt them, and they will.

Simultaneously, we are teaching white kids that it’s okay to hurt someone else just because they wear a different colored skin tone. We are teaching white kids that they can protest an actual pandemic by entering state capitols bearing guns and not meet any consequences, but if they peacefully protest the brutality against blacks, they will be tear-gassed. We are teaching white kids that the world revolves around them, that they get lighter sentences, that they have the upper hand in society.

Sure, we write Twitter posts and share videos on Instagram and curate hashtags that go viral, but do we really understand how frightening this is? That racial discrimination is evidently embedded in the criminal justice system of the United States and there are people who are chanting ALL LIVES MATTER. Yes, they are not wrong, but right now we’re focused on black lives.

If one person sprains their ankle and another gets a heart attack in a restaurant, clearly the more severe condition is going to get attention and help. This is what’s happening. If you don’t understand why black lives have to be prioritized right now, perhaps you are part of the problem.

I cannot speak on behalf of the black community. I cannot say I know the fear or pain that they live with every day. What I can say is this:

We must do better. We must say this for as long as it takes for people in power to start caring about their citizens instead of their wallets. We must understand that it is not the black communities’ job to fight for their rights, it is our job to give it to them. We must go beyond raising awareness and deliver justice because if those in power aren’t going to save society, somebody has to. We must sacrifice our efforts and our time to repair a broken system because if the system falls, we fall with it.

Rest in Power, George Floyd.

Artwork credit: @shirien.creates