I can’t breathe – the death of George Floyd

Mai 2020: George Floyd

It is something that we – in today – Germany – cannot imagine: A person is tortured to death on the open road, the perpetrator kneels on him, the accomplices stand close by, unmoved. People watch, helpless, stunned – you want to call the police so that the sadistic hustle and bustle finally stop.

But this is the police. There is no one to call for help.

George Floyd dies in Minneapolis on May 25, 2020.

The everyday violence against black people leaves us speechless. Once again. These almost nine minutes, which we can all watch on the Internet, are unbearable. The body language of Officer Chauvin: How he pushes his knee back to the man on the floor, his face unmoved, his hand in his pocket, casual, an unbearably indifferent pose, while George Floyd implores him and the people standing around urge him to end this torture.

“He is fine,” says Chauvin.

Shortly thereafter, George Floyd is dead.

Lonnae O’Neal (The Undefeated) says, “I didn’t want to click on the video. I didn’t want to see another police snuff film. I didn’t want to watch whatever it is that compels someone to put his knee into a man’s neck, until he can no longer draw breath.” But what, she writes, touched her the most: how this man called for his mother when he was dying. She, too, is a black mother: “One of the ones since time immemorial who have to answer the sacred call. Who have to answer the call for the divine sisterhood of black mothers. Even when they are not our own, we are asked to bear witness.”

Even if you can ‘t or don ‘t want to watch the video, Floyd’s last words alone (I’m quoting from freethoughtblogs.com) are awful.

It’s my face man
I didn’t do nothing serious man
please I can’t breathe
please man
please somebody
please man
I can’t breathe
I can’t breathe
man can’t breathe, my face
just get up
I can’t breathe
please (inaudible)
I can’t breathe sh*t
I will
I can’t move
I can’t
my knee
my nuts
I’m through
I’m through
I’m claustrophobic
my stomach hurt
my neck hurts
everything hurts
some water or something
I can’t breathe officer
don’t kill me
they gon’ kill me man
come on man
I cannot breathe
I cannot breathe
they gon’ kill me
they gon’ kill me
I can’t breathe
I can’t breathe
please sir
please I can’t breathe

George Floyd dies shortly afterwards.

“The chapter that was written this week is one of our darkest,” said Tim Walz, Governor of the US state of Minnesota (quoted from BBC) “Thank God a young person had a camera to video it. There is no one here today who does not wonder how often (in such situations) there are no cameras. “

“Of course there are protests,” writes Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor in the New York Times on May 29. “The breakdown of politics and governance leaves no other option. The reaction of the protesters in Minneapolis is easy to understand. (If you look carefully, hundreds of whites are attending; all the injustices are evident to them too.) At least 23,000 Covid-19-related deaths have occurred in black America this spring. The coronavirus has found its way through black communities, highlighting and accelerating all of the deep-seated social inequalities that have made African Americans most vulnerable to the disease. “

This is also happening: In Portland, Oregon, a group of police officers went to their knees in solidarity with the protesters, as a video from The Oregonian newspaper shows.

Unimaginable inequality

Roland Nelles, chief correspondent in Washington for SPIEGEL, writes of “brutal inequality, a social division that is difficult to imagine in Europe. Now, in the corona crisis, it has reached unimaginable proportions. While the billionaires and parts of a predominantly white upper middle class continue to do well, large parts of the population and entire regions are being left behind more and more. “

And: “Seldom before has the split been so absurdly visible: In the suburbs of New York, Washington and Chicago, the affluent are walking their 5,000-dollar doggies in the sun, while entire families walk in long lines in the slums Soup kitchens standing in line for food. (…) Millions of Americans could only survive before the crisis as a “working poor” with the help of odd jobs, given the high cost of living. Corona has finally condemned them to poverty. Add to that all the other problems, racism is one of them, an old, deep wound. But there are also: drug abuse, gang crime, violence in families, chronic illnesses, the lack of education in the poorer areas and armed violence. (…) ”

American sons

To read on, listen to, watch: American son (2019) is a drama that is well worth seeing (information here). It reveals the fears and desperation of a black mother (and the father, who joins her later), who spent a night at a police station in Miami worried about her son Jamal, who has apparently got caught in a police check. The deep mistrust between the police officers and those seeking help, the fear, despair, bitterness on both sides, a division that ultimately destroyed the relationship of Jamal’s parents, all of this is fanned out very impressively in this chamber play.

I am not your negro

I am not your negro (2017). Definitely worth seeing. You can watch the film for free on the website of the German Federal Agency for Civic Education. Their website says: “Using a text fragment by the writer James Baldwin, the Oscar-nominated documentary spans the spectrum from the Afro-American civil rights movement of the 1950s and 60s to the Black Lives Matter movement of the present day. – “I am not your Negro” is considered a masterpiece of recent political cinema. On the one hand it is an impressive analysis of the representation of Afro-Americans in US cultural history and on the other hand it knows how to use powerful visual language to highlight the topicality of topics such as institutional or everyday racism. “

And, while writing this article, I remembered Bob Dylan’s The Death of Emmett Till (1962). The song is one of the many in which Bob Dylan addresses sadistic violence against black people – and the structural violence of a state that protects the perpetrators. Dylan’s song is still shockingly up-to-date 65 years after the boy’s death.

August 1955: Emmett Till

Emmett Till was murdered in August 1955. A boy from Chicago, who was just 14 years old, was visiting his uncle in Mississippi, and there, in the local grocery store, spoke a little too exuberantly with the grocer’s wife – he is said to have said “Bye, Babe” when leaving the shop and let out an admiring whistle. It cost him his life. Four days later he was brutally murdered by Roy Bryant, the grocer and his half-brother.

BoB Dylan’s song can be heard here. Here are the Lyrics:

Bob Dylan: The Death of Emmett Till

“‘Twas down in Mississippi no so long ago / When a young boy from Chicago town stepped through a Southern door / This boy’s dreadful tragedy I can still remember well / The color of his skin was black and his name was Emmett Till

Some men they dragged him to a barn and there they beat him up / They said they had a reason, but I can’t remember what / They tortured him and did some things too evil to repeat / There was screaming sounds inside the barn, there was laughing sounds out on the street

Then they rolled his body down a gulf amidst a bloody red rain / And they threw him in the waters wide to cease his screaming pain / The reason that they killed him there, and I’m sure it ain’t no lie / Was just for the fun of killing’ him and to watch him slowly die

And then to stop the United States of yelling for a trial / Two brothers they confessed that they had killed poor Emmett Till / But on the jury there were men who helped the brothers commit this awful crime / And so this trial was a mockery, but nobody there seemed to mind

I saw the morning papers but I could not bear to see / The smiling brothers walking’ down the courthouse stairs / For the jury found them innocent and the brothers they went free / While Emmett’s body floats the foam of a Jim Crow southern sea

If you can’t speak out against this kind of thing, a crime that’s so unjust / Your eyes are filled with dead men’s dirt, your mind is filled with dust / Your arms and legs they must be in shackles and chains, and your blood it must refuse to flow / For you to let this human race fall down so God-awful low

This song’s just a reminder to remind your fellow man / That this kind of thing still lives today in that ghost-robed Ku Klux Klan / But if all of us folks that thinks alike, if we gave all we could give / We could make this great land of ours a greater place to live