Kevin S. Aldridge, Cincinnati Enquirer
Published 7:00 a.m. ET May 29, 2020 | Updated 9:24 a.m. ET May 29, 2020
The FBI is investigating the death of George Floyd after he was restrained by police in Minneapolis.
Six years after Eric Garner first uttered the fateful words, “I can’t breathe,” African Americans are still choking on injustice.
Can a black person breathe in America anymore?
Racism won’t let us breathe. Police won’t let us breathe. COVID-19 won’t let us breathe. And too often, sadly, we won’t let us breathe either.
The past few weeks have delivered one gut-punch headline after another. Black Americans are dying of the Pandemic Protocol at higher rates than any other racial group. An 8-year-old black boy is shot and killed in a Cincinnati apartment, adding to the 150-plus shootings in the city since January. Ahmaud Arbery, 25, gets shot to death by two white men as he jogged through his neighborhood outside of Brunswick, Georgia. A white woman calls the police on a black man after he asks her to put her dog on a leash in New York City’s Central Park. And George Floyd, 46, dies in the street with a Minneapolis police officer’s knee on his neck.
Where do you catch a break in this country if you’re black? Racism, discrimination, self-hate and America’s unwillingness to see African Americans as three-dimensional human beings results in a daily nightmare of oppression, health ills and pain and fear that simply can’t go on. We need to breathe.
“I can’t breathe.”
Floyd joins an ever-growing list of African Americans killed in police-involved incidents. Floyd’s pleas of “I can’t breathe” fell on deaf, uncaring ears as an officer choked the life out of him for nine minutes while three other officers stood by watching. There’s no defending what those officers did in that video, though some will try. Six years after, Eric Garner first uttered those fateful words, “I can’t breathe,” African Americans are still choking on injustice.
This brand of police brutality is why former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick knelt in protest during the national anthem in 2016. His stance for justice got him blackballed from the league. If Kaepernick can’t get a job for taking a knee to bring attention to police brutality and save lives, then these four officers sure as hell don’t deserve to keep theirs for using a knee to take one.
Firing these officers is one thing. Successfully prosecuting them is another. Black people have seen this movie before, and it rarely has a happy ending. Maybe this time, the outcome will be different – just. Many of us won’t hold our breath.
“I can’t breathe.”
USA TODAY spoke with legal experts who analyzed video of Ahmaud Arbery’s fatal shooting to see what the it could mean for the Georgia case.
If you’re not incensed by the cold-blooded killings of Floyd and Arbery, I would ask, what is wrong with you? Where is your sense of empathy, of humanity, of justice? We should all be outraged by these senseless deaths. But anger alone isn’t enough; we’ve got to act.
Now is the time when people of goodwill – black, brown and white – must come off the sidelines and speak out against the violence. It’s time to get involved in our neighborhoods, governments and police departments. It’s time to mentor, protest, vote, write our council members, county commissioners and congress members, support civil rights groups, volunteer at schools or community centers, among other activities.
We have to take an attitude of if we aren’t part of the solution, then we are part of the problem. If we’re not insisting on more accountability and better use of force practices from our police departments, then we’re part of the problem. If we’re not demanding that we stop killing one another in our communities, then we are part of the problem. If we’re not stepping up and calling out racism when we see or hear it, then we are part of the problem. If we are not taking steps to protect our health and the health of others in this season of COVID-19, then we are part of the problem.
The time for silence, inaction and division has passed. We have a responsibility to one another to aggressively pursue justice and fairness for all people.
“I can’t breathe.”
This is not an attack on all police officers. I’m not anti-police. I’m anti-bad police. And if you’re not anti-bad police too, the problem is not me; the problem is you. The truth is, we need those good cops to have the courage to stand up and call out the bad ones – to knock down the blue wall of silence. One bad cop’s actions makes it tougher on the good officers who are dutifully trying to protect and serve. So let’s not fall for the red herring that this is about all officers. The bad ones use that narrative for cover and we’ve got to stop providing it.
This also is not an attack on all white people. African Americans have allies across all races and ethnicities who are passionate about these issues too. But we need more. We need you to share our stories – post them on your social media. Don’t just share them; add your own comments about how you feel. Use your influence to get others in your circle off the sidelines.
Black lives matter as much as any other. And we all should be concerned, whether they are taken by a corrupt cop, a contagious virus or another black person. We can put an end to these senseless killings if we can come together in the name of justice.
Maybe then we can all breathe.
Kevin S. Aldridge is the opinion and engagement editor at the Cincinnati Enquirer. Follow him on Twitter at @kevaldrid. This column originally appeared in the Cincinnati Enquirer.
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