The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house– Audre Lorde
“I can’t breathe” will forever be etched into our minds. The last words of a dying Black man.
For a total of 9 minutes Derek Chauvin, a Minneapolis police officer, held his knee on George Floyd’s neck. Handcuffed and Pinned to the street by three police officers, George Floyd died in front of an audience of Black people. As the video of his death circulates social media platforms and news outlets, some ask “why did he have his knee on his neck for so long? “ Clearly in search of some way to rationalize the death of a man over a fake $20 bill.
I want to answer this question, because there are two reasons. The first, which many Black people will tell you, is that Chauvin wanted to kill Floyd. There is no doubt in my mind that the ability to inflict pain on a man until he dies speaks to a deep seated desire to hurt and kill Black people. Chauvin kept his knee on Floyd’s neck for over two minutes after Floyd was handcuffed, while hearing him say “I can’t breathe”, and even when another officer asked if Floyd should be turned over. This was not an accident. The U.S justice system, a system constructed for the preservation of white bodies was never set up to protect Black lives. The third degree murder charge, which in essence defines Floyd’s death a reckless mistake, for just one of the 4 officers involved is a clear indication of a system not prepared to deal with the struggles Black bodies face in America.
Secondly, Chauvin held his knee on Floyd’s neck as a means of disciplining the Black bodies in proximity to the violent interaction. He was teaching them and in turn us a lesson that the American legal system and police have been teaching for generations. Such an act is an effort to teach Black bodies that our freedoms and movements are limited. That we do not enjoy the same rights as our white counterparts. Any act deemed out of line or beyond these limits will result in death. With his knee, he told the crowd that he alone held the power over their lives; that they were worthless and disposable.This is a lesson that we have learned over time and is embedded within our very consciousness.
But this type of police violence is an extension of the state. This is not a question of rogue cops or even rogue police departments; this is about the nation. A nation in which racism is central to its very construction. A country built on the backs of slaves and has since utilized an add black people and stir approach to equality and justice. By protecting police, and refusing to hold them accountable, the nation sanctions violence against Black bodies. When the nation found George Zimmerman, a racist vigilante, not guilty of killing an unarmed 17 year old boy, Trayvon Martin ofcourse there would be an Ahmaud Arbery. One simply has to turn to the Ahmaud’s case to see the extent to which the violence Black people experience is beyond the police. It is a community driven project to both monitor and police Black movements. According to this nation, even our white neighbors have authorities over our movements. They can shoot us, when and if they feel we do not belong.
It is not enough to create new policy or laws. The old ones must be torn down and the constitution rewritten. There must be rebellion. As many of you sit in your homes condemning the violence understand that what you are witnessing is about far more than an isolated incident of police brutality. This is about years of state sanctioned violence to control Black bodies, specifically poor Black communities. It is about the gross economic inequalities that Black bodies in certain communities continue to experience, many of whom work the same low income jobs that have ceased to exist under lockdown. This is about Black peoples in the United States being more at risk of COVID-19 death due to plethora of structural inequalities and disadvantages. It’s about the continued criminalization of Black boys and girls, and the continued gentrification of Black neighborhoods. While you sit in your suburb or gated communities, criticizing protestors who are struggling under the weight of racism and poverty, think about what it means to be under constant pressure, to be exhausted and angry. This fight is just as much about race as it is about class.
There must be rebellion.
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