8 Minutes and 46 Seconds
As anger erupts in America over the murder of George Floyd, could his horrific death become the catalyst for change?
JUNE 2nd, 2020
Minutes and 46 Seconds
That is how long officer, Derek Chauvin deliberately and callously pressed his knee into the neck of George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man, as he begged for his life. “I can’t breathe,” he cried out, visibly struggling to gasp for air.
So frightened, so desperate, Floyd called out for his dead mother: “MAMA! MAMA!” Yet Chauvin kept applying the pressure, his face unbothered, disinterested, and arrogant. “I can’t breathe,” George begged again. Bystanders pleaded with the police officers present to “Let him breathe!” They remained unmoved.
Throughout the horrifying five-minute video, recording the final moments of George Floyd’s life, he implores ‘I can’t breathe’ sixteen times. For the closing few minutes he fell silent and unresponsive, lying face down on the tarmac. Chauvin remained resolute; his knee still pressed against the neck of the black man he was suffocating. Even as the paramedics arrived to check the pulse of the now unconscious George Floyd, the officer never moved.
That is until the medic requested he does so, to transport the gravely ill Floyd to the Hennepin Medical Center. He died an hour later – 90 minutes after George had been accused of using a fake $20 bill to purchase cigarettes.
I, like all those who have witnessed the horrifying video of George Floyd’s death, have been left physically repulsed by what I saw – the modern-day lynching of a black man. And whilst repulsion was the overwhelming reaction, sadly and tragically I was not surprised. In recent weeks, the ongoing subject of racism in America has continued. The death of Ahmaud Arbery, 25 – hunted down and murdered while he was jogging in Georgia by two white men, shocked the Nation. Then came the appalling video of Amy Cooper – a white woman – phoning 911 to falsely claim Christian Cooper – a black man – was threatening her life after he politely asked her to place her dog on a leash in Central Park. These deliberate and racist attacks were precursors to the killing of Mr Floyd by the knee of a police officer, though follow in a long systemic pattern of racial prejudice and brutality on the African American community.
In the aftermath of the murder of George Floyd, America has descended into chaos. The bitterness and anger left festering from centuries of oppression has erupted once again. Protests have swept across the country with some falling into violent clashes between protestors and the police. But mostly, peaceful avowals have brought the long malevolent suffering of race to the forefront of social and political discussions.
As the protests continue, one question is left ringing loudly in the air – when will enough be enough? It is a question that seems to evade an answer. For generations, history has seemingly repeated itself, from the slave trade, Segregation, the Civil Rights Movement, the LA Riots in 1992 and now the killing of George Floyd – the frustration and exhaustion felt by the African American community is clear for all to see. It is clear that enough will never be enough for America.
The marches, which have taken place across the world in response to the continuing brutality of American Law Enforcement, have been led by the Black Lives Matter movement. Though whilst black America fight for acceptance, there are some who refuse to still acknowledge the struggle. ‘All Lives Matter’ is a slogan which has been consistently used to devalue the Black Lives Matter movement.
Of course, ‘all lives matter’, but the reality is for hundreds of years they haven’t. For all lives to matter, so must the lives of black people, and they have not counted for centuries. If they did George Floyd would still be alive, Martin Luther King Jr. would not have been assassinated, Rosa Parks would have been allowed to remain sitting in her seat on that bus, Colin Kaepernick would never have had to take a knee, and the African American community would be afforded the same privilege of every white person in America – the privilege of being believed. They aren’t, and it is therefore impossible to claim that ‘all lives matter’ at this present time.
The freedoms enjoyed by white people are consistently taken for granted, devoured with the favouritism of white privilege. Just imagine for a moment that the cameras hadn’t been filming when Derek Chauvin pushed down his knee on the neck of George Floyd. Envision a bystander who was black, declaring that a police officer had performed such a barbaric and inhumane action on another human being, and then the white officer stated it was false – who would society believe? We all know the answer because we’ve heard it all before.
And whilst some have argued now isn’t the time for ‘what-about-isms’; the uncomfortable truth is, if a black police officer had murdered a white man in the way George Floyd was, the officer and his colleagues would have been arrested on the spot, charged with first-degree murder – not third – and calls for the Death Penalty would have been echoing loud and clear. Six days after the death of Mr Floyd, out of the four officers pinning him down, only one has been arrested and charged. These protested ‘what-about-isms’ puncture the fantasy that nothing is wrong, which is why they are denied.
The question now remains on where does America go from here? The answer is for the white community to decide. African Americans and the black communities in general do not need to educate the rest of us. It is not, nor never been the responsibility of black people to teach us about the racism they have endured. They do not need us to speak for them, save them, fight for them, or understand the suffering which walks parallel to racism. African Americans can speak for themselves, fight for themselves, and have suffered for long enough. The rest of us now must listen and in doing so, deconstruct the systems which have been rigged against black people for centuries.
Martin Luther King Jr. told of his dream for America, the system prevailed. Rose Parks refused to give up her seat, the system prevailed. And Colin Kaepernick took the knee, the system pushed theirs on the neck of a black man. George Floyd’s death must change that response. This time the system cannot and should not prevail, for Black people’s sake, for America’s sake.
Whatever future lies ahead of the United States of America, leadership has never been needed more. Sadly, in President Trump he has failed to do so. In neglecting to bring calmness, reasoned discussions and acknowledging the fevered anger in his country, he has instead added fuel to an already ferocious inferno. America is burning on his watch, and no one else is to blame. He must stop hiding in the White House’s bunker and address the American people – and more so, those communities hurting at the recent spate of violence. The President needs to show leadership, and America has to do better. Quoting ‘when the looting starts, the shooting starts’, after the segregationist presidential candidate George Wallace – alluded to a President effectively condoning violence against his own people. It proved that he himself, is his own worst enemy.
In 8 Minutes and 46 Seconds, George Floyd was murdered, and world watched it happen. He should still be alive. His death is another stain on the liberties and freedoms of the United States of America – though it has also become a wake-up call for society that racism is ever present, and the lynching’s of the past are anything but. So as we move forward and America continues to grapple with its identity and uncomfortable history on race, those who state all lives matter in place of black lives, must remember; don’t dismiss it because it’s not your movement, be grateful you don’t need one.
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