“I can’t breathe” -- not only represents the dying words of two Black men, Eric Gardner and George Floyd, whose lives were not only devalued and choked out by individual law enforcement officers, but they also reflect the history of law enforcement culture and practices that seemingly condone the use of excessive force and brutality against Black and Brown communities. “-- I can’t breathe” is the historic reality of millions of Black people in America whose hopes, dreams and pursuit of life, liberty and happiness are smothered by their daily experiences with emotional and physical trauma resulting from centuries of racial oppression and violence and maintained by millions of Whites who selfishly and inhumanely hold on to their White privilege. Our hopes are being choked by the constant reminder that Black lives have never been valued equally to Whites.
If we were to take a cursory stroll down America’s recent modern racial history, we would fully appreciate why millions of African Americans are DEMANDING THAT AMERICA RECOGNIZE AND BEHAVE AS THOUGH “BLACK LIVES MATTER!!!” For example, let’s use the murders of George Floyd on 5/25/20 and Emmett Till in Money, Mississippi on August 28, 1955, as the two ends of a recent continuum of violent racial aggression against Black people. I am referring to those instances that have received national attention: Breonna Taylor on 5/13,2020; Ahmaud Arbery on 2/23/20; Philando Castile on 7/6/16; Freddie Gray on 4/12/15; Walter Scott on 4/4/15; Sandra Bland on 7/13/15; 9 church members murder by Dylan Roof on 6/17/15; Mike Brown on 8/9/14; Eric Gardner on 7/17/14;Tamir Rice on 11/22/14; Trayvon Martin on 2/26,12; Amadou Diallo on 2/4/99; James Byrd Jr on 7/7/98; Martin Luther King Jr on 4/4/68; Malcolm X on 2/21/65; Medgar Evers on 6/12/63; or the four (4) black church girl members, Addie Mae Collins, Carol McNair, Carole Robertson, and Cynthia Wesley, murdered in a church bombing on 9/15/63 in Birmingham, Alabama.
The massive civil unrest and acts of rebellion should also remind us of our broken criminal justice system and mass incarceration. Of the 2.3 million men and women in prisons and local jails and the over 5 million persons on probation, who are predominately Black and Brown, that have been permanently relegated to second class citizenship, I can’t help but wonder how many have been wrongfully convicted like the nine (9) Black teenage boys in Scottsboro, Alabama, or the five (5) teenage boys in Central Park, New York. Nor am I able to ever forget the unethical syphilis experiments carried out on 399 black men from 1932 – 1972, by the United States Public Health Service. Or the over 2500 documented cases of racial lynching in the South between 1890- 1910; the bombing of Black Wall Street in Tulsa, Oklahoma on May 31- June 1, 1921; or the burning of Rosewood, Florida from January 1 – 7, 1923. Lastly, we mustn’t look so deeply into the past that we overlook the current issues related to the continued evidence of concentrated poverty in racially segregated neighborhoods and the impact on school performance and public safety; or the disproportionate incidences of COVID -19 among blacks.
As I reflect on our nation’s dreadful racial history, I grow increasingly concerned that our Nation will continue to fail to recognize the need to end structural racism and to place equitable value on the lives of all Black people. If America does not, it will choke the very life and breathe out of the hopes and dreams for every African American man, woman and child. Then none of us will be able to breathe!!