By Jeffrey L. Boney, Houston Forward Times Associate Editor
“I can’t breathe!”
This has become an all too familiar phrase, uttered by yet another African American man on video, nearly six years after America was temporarily traumatized by the story of Eric Garner.
Garner, of course, was infamously captured on video being choked to death by a New York Police Department officer, while being arrested for a suspected crime on July 17, 2014.
Fast forward to May 25, 2020, and we see an eerily familiar scene play out on camera, involving another Black man being suffocated by an illegal departmental procedure carried out by a rogue, White police officer. That Black man who was tragically killed was Mr. George Perry Floyd Jr.
On the evening of May 25th, which was Memorial Day, Floyd had gone to a local store to purchase some cigarettes, and after paying for the cigarettes, an employee of that store claimed that Floyd had used a counterfeit $20 bill to pay for them. The store employee called the police to report Floyd and when the Minneapolis police officers arrived, they began to do their investigation. After a few minutes, the police came out and told Floyd that he was under arrest.
Already handcuffed, unarmed and not resisting at all, the 46-year-old native Houstonian can be heard on video uttering his very last words, “I can’t breathe” as Floyd plead for his life to then-Minneapolis police officer, Derek Chauvin, to remove his knee from his neck.
At some points on the video, you can hear Floyd begging for his life, crying out “Please” and “Don’t kill me,” and then doing something that has pulled on the heartstrings of so many – calling out for his deceased mother. These continuous and desperate cries for relief were ignored, as that Minneapolis police officer’s knee continued to be lodged in the back of Floyd’s neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds, all while three other officers stood, watched and did nothing.
It is believed that George Floyd told the officer roughly 16 times that he could not breathe.
Candlelight vigil for George Floyd at Jack Yates High School (Photo by Jared R. Gilmore of J. Raphael’s Photography)
The four officers involved with the incident were immediately terminated and have now finally been arrested. Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison has since taken over the case.
Upon Ellison taking over the case, former officer Derek Chauvin received an upgraded charge of second-degree murder. The three other officers who stood by and did nothing to assist Floyd, or stop Chauvin from murdering him, were charged with aiding and abetting second-degree murder.
During his press conference announcing the new charges, Ellison profoundly stated:
“We need citizens, neighbors, leaders in government, and in faith communities, civil and human rights activists, to begin rewriting the rules for a just society now. We need new policy and legislation and ways of thinking at the municipal, state and federal levels. The world of arts and entertainment can use their cultural influence to inspire change that we need. There is a role for all who dream of a justice that we haven’t yet experienced. In the final analysis, a protest can shake a tree and can make the fruit fall down, but after that fruit is in reach, collecting it and making the jam must follow. The demonstrations and the protests are dramatic and necessary but building just institutions is more of a slow grind, but equally important and we have to begin that work as well. We need your energy and we need everyone’s help right now.”
Members of his family, civil rights activists, and many others, are demanding justice.
There have been countless marches, protests and candlelight vigils taking place all over the world, after witnessing what happened to this Black man on camera – an unnecessary death. Others are seeking to defund police departments and introduce sweeping new legislation to address the recurring issue.
According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, the word “enough” is defined as “a sufficient number, quantity, or amount.”
As it relates to the pain and suffering that Black Americans of African descent have had to endure since the founding of this country, Black people have had “enough”. But, simply saying Black people have had “enough” is a mere understatement. It is safe to say that Black people have had “more than enough” of being plagued with racism and being unfairly treated just because of the color of their skin.
The tragic way in which George Floyd was murdered has conjured up so many past and recent memories of Black people that have fallen victim to homegrown, domestic terrorism, at the hands of members of law enforcement or those who just simply despise Black people. In many instances, those two aggressors are one in the same – racists and members of law enforcement.
In October 2006, the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) released a report, where they issued a warning that revealed that their findings showed that “White supremacist infiltration of law enforcement” represented a significant national threat to the U.S. Interestingly enough, after the FBI’s warning, White supremacy extremism in the U.S. increased, exponentially. From 2008 to 2014, the number of White supremacist groups, reportedly, grew from roughly 150 to nearly 1,000 groups, with no real knowledge of whether the FBI’s report findings helped to lessen the infiltration of White supremacists into law enforcement.
What happened to George Floyd was a modern-day lynching…period!
But what has happened to so many other Black people, the absolute majority of which have been unarmed, fit the category of a modern day lynching also. This time, things appear somewhat different though. This time it appears the many people in this country have finally awakened from a deep sleep and are finally realizing that what Black people have been marching, protesting and complaining about for decades, is actually real.
This moment in history seems to be a mirror-image of what happened to Black marchers who were caught on video being severely attacked by members of law enforcement. In 1965, at an event known infamously as “Bloody Sunday”, those Black marchers were beaten with Billy clubs, trampled by horses and bitten by dogs, as they simply sought to march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, seeking to secure voting rights. The thing that made “Bloody Sunday” open up the eyes of those who had been asleep and who had ignored the cries of Black people, was that the entire ordeal was captured on video for the world to see.
There have been many instances where Black people have been caught on camera being viciously attacked, and even murdered, but there has been little to no justice received for those individuals, as it relates to their attackers and murderers being held accountable for their crimes.
Many Black people are still grieving, angry, frustrated, seeking answers, seeking justice, trying to cope and trying to figure out ways to further protect themselves and their sons and daughters.
The death of George Floyd is yet another example of why Colin Kaepernick took a knee, and why every American, regardless of your race, should be concerned about what Black people have been complaining about for decades.
The name, George Floyd, is more than just a hashtag; more than just a newly created Wikipedia page; and more than just another unarmed victim who died at the hands of a rogue police officer.
The name, George Floyd, has become synonymous with an ever-increasing demand for justice in a country that has practically denied and historically ignored the cries for justice from Black people. For decades, Black people have been the victims of racism, police brutality, systematic oppression, disenfranchisement, racial disparity in the criminal justice system, and even murder.
George Floyd has impacted the world and has seemingly awakened the souls of many people across the globe, many of whom, have traditionally ignored the pleas and turned a blind eye to the historical plight of Black people in the U.S.
Whether you knew George Floyd personally as a friend; knew him as a classmate; knew him as a student; knew him as an athlete; knew him as a fellow athlete; knew him as a mentor; knew him as a man of faith; knew him as a relative; knew him in the Third Ward community or in the Cuney Homes, where he was raised; knew him at Jack Yates High School, where he helped lead his football team to the 1992 State Championship game with his heroic gamesmanship; whether you were a classmate that graduated with him in 1993 from Jack Yates High School; or whether you never knew George Floyd at all; George Floyd has impacted the entire world.
The name, George Floyd, will not just be relegated to the tragic event that happened to him on May 25th, when that rogue, White police officer pressed his knee into his neck for those 8 minutes and 46 seconds during his arrest and murdered him while three other officers watched.
At Jack Yates High School, there is a rich legacy and history, not just in the Third Ward community or across the Greater Houston area, but across the globe. George Floyd loved Jack Yates, whose mascot is the Lion, and as the members of his alumni have stated, although he is a fallen Lion, he will NEVER be a forgotten Lion. Many cities, states and countries, lit up their government buildings and other buildings across the world in his school’s colors of Crimson and Gold. There have been many memorials, scholarships, murals, poems, songs and video tributes that will continue to keep his memory alive and on the minds of people across the world.
When you mention Houston, Texas, you have to remember George Floyd.
When you mention Houston’s Third Ward, you have to remember George Floyd.
When you mention the Cuney Homes, where he was raised, you have to remember George Floyd.
And, of course, when you mention Jack Yates High School, you have to remember George Floyd.
If ever there was a time for elected officials at the city, county, state and federal level to make drastic changes to the law enforcement agencies across this country, the time is now, because Black people have had “enough” of being ignored.
If ever there was a time for law enforcement agencies to “drain the swamp” and rid themselves of known problematic and/or rogue cops, the time is now, because Black people have had “enough” of the same old routine.
If ever there was a time for Americans to show more care and concern for Black people being targeted because of their race and murdered than they give to animals, especially dogs and cats; guns; the economy; having the freedom to roam the streets in the midst of a catastrophic and historic pandemic; or anything else that is cherished more than the lives of Black people in this country, the time is now, because Black people have had “enough” of being victims.
People often ask what the solutions to these issues are, and there are some things that elected officials across the country should strongly consider:
- Performing annual psychological testing of law enforcement officials to ensure they are fit to carry out their duties, especially to use deadly force
- Making sure every law enforcement official has insurance that is tied to their license to carry out their duties, so they have something to lose if they have to make a decision between committing a crime and feeding their families
- Implementing mechanisms to identify problematic law enforcement officials and quickly remove them from the force, especially those with a history of excessive, unjustified violence force and shooting complaints, especially shooting of unarmed citizens
- Showing and publicly exhibiting support for “Good Cops” who report Bad Cops
- Implementing a Police Whistleblower Committee (PWC) to accept anonymous written complaints of police misconduct and promoting it
- Implementing mandatory screening during the law enforcement hiring process to eliminate applicants who have ties to hate groups, or known racial bias towards minorities
As a people with identifiable dark pigmentation, one of the primary things that Black people have consistently asked for, is for others to stop violently attacking, falsely accusing, blatantly discriminating against and to stop ignoring their pressing concerns and issues.
It is time for everyone to take a stand against systems and prejudices that hamper Black people from progressing in this country, and even staying alive, because Black people have had “more than enough” of damaging decisions, destructive policies, racist systems and violence.
Enough is enough!