I awoke this morning, stunned by the news of the tragic death of a Black American by a Minneapolis Police Officer. It was shocking to see the video of the man on the ground repeatedly crying “I Can’t Breathe.” Bystanders began to assemble in an attempt to intercede for the handcuffed man lying on the ground apparently in agony, but to no avail. The officer, with his knee firmly positioned on the neck of the man seems to give little regard to his plea.
As I watched the news report, I was appalled at the words of the police spokesperson suggesting the victim “entered medical distress.” “You mean the medical stress of the victim was caused by the officer’s knee cutting off his breath, right?” was my first reaction. I listened again and again, becoming emotionally shaken, angered and perplexed, yet never hearing words of accountability for the officers.
How did all start? The police spokesperson said a report of an attempted forgery was called into the department and supposedly the person was sitting on top of his car. When the police arrived, they discovered a man sitting in his car and ask him to step out of the vehicle. The man complied with the request but after getting out of the car he resisted arrest. There is no report from the victim because after 7 minutes waiting for an ambulance with a knee on his throat, he was pronounced dead at a local hospital. Perhaps we need a new definition on what “resisted arrest” really means. Does it mean verbal resistance, “I ain’t going” or “Don’t put those handcuffs on me” or maybe a verbal assault against the officer’s family member?
I grieve for this man that I never met. I grieve for his family members as they mourn the death of a loved one while stories emerge describing his vile criminal history in the press. I grieve for his friends, those who knew him as a person, the ones that shared in laughter and meals as they speak of him as a human being to ears that will not hear.
Most of all I grieve for us because this is something that we continue to endure…this outrageous divide of class and color and the continuing pattern of injustice. It is a known fact by all that Black people, regardless of education, economic stability, or occupation are a threat to those who convey the sense of entitlement. Perhaps that’s why the White woman in Central Park called NYPD to report there was an African American male attacking her and her dog…she knew, like we all know, the police would believe her and not him, and he would probably die because of her accusation, while she continued her life of innocence.
The involvement of all is crucial in order for change to occur. We must speak up about this. I don’t mean in a rally, or a #RIP, or even after a death, we need to demand the end of injustice in every conversation, every television show, every social media post resulting in true justice for all people.
As the son of a Black man, the father of a Black man, the grandfather of Black men, I fear for their safety and for mine as well as others. Until liberty and justice for all become a reality and not part of a pledge, until transparency and accountability become equal partners in every aspect of our society, until people of color are no longer viewed as a threat by those expressing power over them by violating the rights of the poor, I Can’t Breathe.