I Can’t Breathe
“I can’t breathe”. It’s been nearly six years since we all associated these words with the death of Eric Garner at the hands of New York police officers. We heard them again this week from a handcuffed George Floyd, held and surrounded by four police officers.
Some call it a ‘chokehold’. Though different forms, both men were held in a way that restricted their breathing.
That’s how this week has felt. Like the systemic racism in our country is a chokehold. It’s restricting our breathing. Stopping us from building each other up; from thriving.
The cynical side of me acknowledges that outright injustices against people of color happen—and have been happening—every day. So, why has this week in particular made me feel outraged?
Perhaps it’s because that even in the middle of a pandemic which is already shining a light on the inequities for communities of color—there is no reprieve. Our country has lost more than 100,000 lives to this virus—and we’ve been learning more every day about how disproportionately people of color are being hit.
And, still. It does not let up.
The ‘it’, of course, is the systemic racism that has ruled the headlines this week by the loss of George Floyd—handcuffed and dead after another act of police involved violence. The impulse of the woman in Central Park to call police with a phony charge. This, on the heels of delayed murder charges brought as a result of Ahmaud Arbery’s death in Georgia while out jogging and Breonna Taylor’s death by police inside her apartment in Louisville.
We need to be outraged. And we need to demand justice.
We should expect police accountability. The officer seen in a video with his knee on Mr. Floyd’s neck had used fatal force before and had 18 prior complaints filed against him. While quickly dismissed from the police force, charges were not brought for days. The months-long response to Mr. Arbery’s death—and only after a video surfaced—is unacceptable. Even without all of the details of these cases, it’s clear that accountability is sorely lacking.
So, yes, I’m outraged. And I hope you are too.
Even as we grieve with these other communities, we need to be resolute in our determination to take action against oppression here at home. Indeed, the recent deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor stand in total opposition to the just and equitable community we work towards every day at United Way. Together we can do better and we must do better if we are to hold ourselves accountable to the communities we serve. It’s our responsibility to pursue social justice in a way that will lift a community up—not tear it apart.
Gordon McHenry, Jr. is CEO & President of United Way of King County