Updated: Jun 22, 2020
Every Black and Brown death at the hands of the punish-first-de-escalate-later system of policing in the United States deserves to be mourned individually, but as the list of names and faces grows and the pattern of destruction of Black life becomes more self-evident, so do the ominous consistencies. When George Floyd was murdered on March 25 in Minneapolis, the gruesome video echoed the murder of Eric Garner, 6 years prior, as he desperately choked out the same words: “I can’t breathe.” How can we fathom that the phrase had not been etched into the psyches of police officers everywhere? How is it that this phrase, even after becoming a rallying cry of a people desperately fighting for their humanity, meant nothing to Officer Chauvin as he ruthlessly shoved his knee onto another human being's neck, squeezing the life out of the man? The allocation of power and immunity to the police now too obviously exists to maintain a white supremacist agenda, ensuring that Black and Brown people remain within a societal underclass, without which a deeply unbalanced system of capitalism will topple.
So for centuries we have written essays explaining our perspectives, begged to be displayed in media in a “non-threatening manner,” and conducted peaceful protest after peaceful protest to no avail.
Still, on Friday afternoon, hundreds of protesters, including myself, peacefully marched, cried, and shouted in defiance of our murderers in New York streets from the pre-barricaded Police Headquarters near Foley Square and then pushed toward Chinatown. There, we were forced onto a corner after being belatedly threatened with arrest for “disorderly conduct” by police officers following our group on motorbikes, foot, and in police cars. (Many protesters had already been violently tackled and inexplicably arrested, as seen in the picture above — reminiscent of any of the copious videos surfacing on social media.) Now cornered, we stood face to face with an equally large group of officers. We yelled and begged for them to show us compassion, to show their own humanity, to say the names of the individuals who are now dead by their organization for simply being Black or Brown. As I grew louder, a fellow protester placed a megaphone in front of me. I continued my plea, telling the officers in front of me that their complacency evidenced that with a badge on their chests, that they are no longer working and making decisions as righteous individuals, but for a purpose beyond themselves — the dehumanization of Black and Brown people everywhere. The officers stood silent and unaffected. One moment was both shattering and infuriating, as I watched the burly white officer standing further behind the group scoff at our asks, rolling his eyes. I fought against my own disillusionment while trying to keep strong within the collective. We were not regarded by those officers as human beings begging for change, begging for our humanity to be realized. Just angry protesters that would eventually go away one way or another. They trusted in our silencing by the brutal removal of our bodies as we continue to fight for Black liberation.
Brutality, though, only explains a part of behavior that police officers relentlessly demonstrate when dealing with people of color. The idea that police are effectively a glorified gang is no longer a strong enough image to explain the working of this system. With unlimited power to take lives with no consequence, policing in the United States functions as self-gratifying racial cleansing akin to organized divine judgment — a feeling that obviously permeated through Derek Chauvin as he smothered George Floyd to death. The Black community and people who are allies of the Black Liberation Movement can no longer be placated and, in all of our justified anger, frustration, disillusionment, and rage must continue to deconstruct this system that permits our death by any means we may have at our disposal. No matter the strategy we choose to invoke as a collective and as individuals, we will not and must not be placated. We must never stop.