Tea Time with Tagwa: He couldn’t breathe

Illustration by Karly Andersen

Tagwa Shammet, Opinions Editor

Tea timers, “I can’t breathe.”

I cannot believe I’m writing this piece right now. The utter disbelief that sits in my heart as I try to rationalize everything is unbearable. Another day, another innocent black man dead on the street.

George Floyd. If you haven’t heard his name, you haven’t been tuned in. So, let me fill you in. Now, in America, if your check bounces in a grocery store and you’re black, it results in a white officer’s knee on your neck and your inevitable death. That’s what happened to George Floyd. 

Floyd, a 46-year-old black man in Minneapolis, was murdered by police officers on Monday. Police arrived at a local grocery store after a report stated that Floyd forged a bad check. Initial police reports claimed Floyd resisted arrest, but a video, which appeared later, showed that Floyd was cooperative. 

After their arrival, a video taken by a bystander showcased the last moments of Floyd’s life. For minutes, white officers stood around as one of their own laid Floyd down on his face, put his hands in cuffs and his knee on Floyd’s neck. Minutes unable to breathe.

On Friday, another video surfaced from another angle and it showed three of the four officers kneeling on Floyd.

“I can’t breathe.”

Those were the last words of yet another dead black man in America.

“I can’t breathe.”

Those were the last words his family will ever hear him say.

“I can’t breathe.”

Those are the words that ignited protest.

“I can’t breathe.”

Those are the words that broke my heart.

Floyd was murdered. The four officers involved in his death were swiftly fired from their police department. While it’s refreshing to finally see a bit of punishment following police brutality, it is nowhere near enough. 

If I walked up to another civilian and put my knee on their neck and they died, would I be convincted of murder? Without a doubt. Wearing a badge does not negate the facts of the matter. It’s called rule of law. These men murdered this innocent black man. Their badge should not and does not protect them from unjustifiably taking the life of another.

Floyd deserves better. He deserves justice. He deserves to have his killers off the street and behind bars. 

“I can’t breathe.”

How many more black people have to be killed at the hands of this country’s repulsively racist law enforcement? Black Americans are three times more likely to be shot by the police, according to Mapping Police Violence, a research collaborative that collects data on police killings. That is why black Americans are terrified of the police. We should not be afraid of the same people who vowed to protect and to serve all.

Are we not “all?” Do we not matter? How many times do we have to beg this country to see us as equals? How many times do we have to sit and cry over our family, while our murderers roam free? How much more do you expect us to handle? 

I am sick and tired of seeing black person after black person on my feed, dead at the hands of people who see black life as nothing more than mere space being taken up.

Being black does not make me any less of a person. Being black does not mean I deserve to be shot for going on a run. Being black does not mean I deserve to be shot in my bed in the middle of the night. Being black does not mean I deserve to have a knee on my neck. Being black does not mean I don’t deserve to breathe.

Being black should not be a death sentence.

We are in the middle of a pandemic. Yet, police officers all over the nation are being weaponized by white people against their black counterparts. Ahmaud Arbery. Breonna Taylor. George Floyd. All victims of this country’s oppressive and demeaning justice system.

Where is their justice? 

“I can’t breathe.”

All over the nation, people have began protesting the gruesome murder of Floyd. They have taken to the streets to showcase their anger and sadness over this racist tragedy. Thousands of people flooded the Minneapolis streets May 26th and 27th, and in return, were met with tear gas and rubber bullets.

Racism is dead, right? Then, why do the streets of Minneapolis look like a picture straight of the Jim Crow era? Tear gas and rubber bullets are inflicted on people for practicing their constitutional right to protest against the oppression of black Americans. 

Not only are protestors being met with violence, they are also risking arrest. A CNN reporter and his camera crew were shown in a video being arrested as they reported on the scene in Minneapolis. 

Why weren’t protesters of the stay-at-home orders met with the same aggression and violence Floyd protesters were? Oh that’s right, one group was full of law-abiding, white citizens, the other was full of “thugs.”

As if matters weren’t bad enough, the lovely president of this ever-so-glorious nation decided to pour a gallon of gasoline in the flame. Calling protesters “thugs,” President Donald Trump threatened violence against these protesters in a now-deleted tweet by saying: “… when the looting starts, the shooting starts.”

Mind my confusion, but when did it become acceptable for a president to outwardly threaten violence against civilians for exercising their freedoms and rights? When Second Amendment supporters hoot and holler about gun control legislation, which they argue would restrict their constitutional rights, I don’t see the president calling them “thugs.” When thousands of armed civilians took the streets of Richmond in January – scaring college students and other civilians – I heard nothing of them being “thugs.”

That’s because the president so obviously associates “thug” with “black.” Well, Mr. President, those two words are not synonymous. 

“I can’t breathe.”

That is why they protest. To ensure that the next time a black man faces a white officer, he doesn’t end up in the morgue. 

It is exhausting. Constantly having to protest and fight against the oppressive system that was put into place without our consent. Do you think black people like doing this? Do you think we enjoy watching our brothers and sisters, fathers and mothers, sons and daughters laid out on the street, with their last few moments recorded on video for everyone to see?

We’ve normalized watching these gruesome videos. In fact, we hope for them. Every time a black person is killed by white officers, we pray there’s a video that will bring them justice.

Yet, all we get is a third-degree murder charge. That’s right, the officer with his knee on Floyd’s neck was charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter on Friday.

According to the Minnesota statutes, third-degree murder is defined as “whoever, without intent to effect the death of any person, causes the death of another by perpetrating an act eminently dangerous to others and evincing a depraved mind, without regard for human life.”

In simpler terms, third degree murder is a glorified self-defense charge that cannot equate to a sentence of more than 25 years. This is disrespectful. This charge tells the world that the officer with his knee on Floyd’s neck did it to prevent Floyd from doing something dangerous.

This charge tells the world Floyd deserved what he got.

“I can’t breathe.”

When you attack me for saying “Black Lives Matter,” do you see why I say it? Don’t tell me “all lives matter” when all lives aren’t being targeted. Don’t tell me “all lives matter” when you cannot see what is so obviously in front of you.

Nobody said “all lives matter don’t matter.” But, until this nation realizes that black lives are being stripped away too early, Black Lives Matter is all I will be saying.

If you believe that what happened to George Floyd, protesters being met with tear gas and rubber bullets and the weaponization of the police against black Americans are justifiable actions, you are a danger to me. You are someone who wants to harm me. To harm my family and anyone who looks like me. And I will not tolerate it.

This country has chewed up and spat out the black community. This country hasn’t even failed us. It cannot fail a community it was never designed for. 

We have no more anger. We have no more tears. We have no more fight to give. Yet, we will not give up. We are the strongest people this country has ever seen, and we owe no credit to anyone but ourselves. And that’s the tea.

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