The Crime of Breathing While Black

A belated Earth Day Message—Part 1
by Thea Halo

Perhaps the world has finally gone mad, and although the burning and looting of stores and buildings—that had nothing to do with George Floyd’s death—is rather mind boggling, the anger about the cold-blooded murder of George Floyd is not. That Police Officer, Derek Chauvin kneeled on George Floyd’s neck and actually watched his life drain from him, as bystanders told him Floyd is now bleeding from his nose, and finally not moving, is the most cold-blooded crime I have ever witnessed. Even the video of Eric Garner’s murder, although equally reprehensible and criminal, doesn’t compare in how deliberate, calm, and cold-blooded Floyd’s murder was. There was no struggle from Floyd. He had no chance to struggle. He was pinned firmly to the ground on his stomach, with his hands cuffed behind him, and Derek Chauvin’s knee and weight on his neck. We all know there are compassionate cops. These were not among them.

Why Derek Chauvin and his accomplices are not charged with first degree murder is beyond reason. For what crime was Floyd murdered? For allegedly trying to pass a counterfeit $20 bill. Even if true, without an investigation, we have no way of knowing if he knew the bill was counterfeit. It could have been passed to him from an unknowing party. But even if Floyd knew the bill was counterfeit, does that really deserve a death sentence? As with Eric Garner’s murder, is selling loose cigarettes really a capital offense undeserving of a trial and a jury of one’s peers? Is it even worth a citation? Doesn’t selling loose cigarettes tell the police that this man is just trying to make a few cents, perhaps to buy food? In a civil society, the police would have asked Garner if he needed help, and directed him in how to seek help, instead of wrestling him to the ground and choking him to death.

Who are we as a country… as a people? How have we become so ruthless? How did those who are supposed to be entrusted to serve and protect become the people we must fear? How does Atatiana Jefferson, the 28-year-old Black woman who is simply playing video games in her own home with her nephew, get shot dead by police through her second story window? How does an innocent Black woman, Breonna Taylor, who is sleeping in her own bed, get shot dead by police who break into the wrong home? How does Philando Castile, a 32-year-old Black man, get shot seven times by police during a traffic stop, while in a car with his fiancé and her four-year-old child? What kind of trauma must that child face, not to mention the trauma to Castile’s fiancé and his family?

How does a stupid White woman, who is breaking a local leash law with her dog, think it’s acceptable to threaten a Black man—who simply reminds her to follow the law—that she is calling the police to tell them an African American man is threatening her life?

How did we get so ignorant and cruel as a society? Where is this heading? And how is burning and looting our cities supposed to help? Unless it’s to remind us that in some cruel way we are all to blame for not demanding that our police are not chosen from the bottom of the barrel. That they are tested and trained properly to deal with every situation to determine which situations are actually life threatening enough to need force. Selling loose cigarettes on a street corner is not life threatening to anyone. Nor is sleeping in one’s bed. Nor is playing video games in one’s home. Even passing a counterfeit bill threatens the life of no one.

However, instead of burning businesses and looting, causing trauma to even more people, which in turn may cause more animosity, wouldn’t it be more of a tribute to George Floyd’s memory if each of those protestors marched peacefully and gave even one dollar to help fund after-school projects in Black communities, or bought musical instruments and books for gifted Black children? With so many protestors, hundreds of thousands of dollars could have been raised to honor the life of George Floyd and the many other Black Americans whose lives were cut short by police brutality. There are so many others not mentioned here. They are all equally tragic.

Witnessing Chauvin watch Floyd die as he presses his knee into Floyd’s neck, while ignoring Floyd’s pleas that he can’t breath, is beyond cruel. It is almost inhuman. I say almost because, although humans are the most brilliant, creative, innovative, and versatile creatures on earth, and have a great capacity for compassion and kindness, we have demonstrated that we are also some of the most diabolical creatures on earth. Most other creatures on earth kill to survive. Nature is cruel after all. Every creature must eat. But humans sometimes kill for sport. We kill for revenge. We kill out of depravity. We kill to even scores. We kill because of greed. We kill in the hundreds of thousands, even millions, by dropping bombs. We sometimes even hire others to do our killing for us. What a legacy we have left on this earth.

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