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“All He Had to Do Was Get His Feet Off His Neck”: Another Reminder of Racial Injustice in America

Just three weeks after the heart-wrenching video of Ahmaud Arbery’s murder surfaced, the country is met with yet another case of police brutality and fraud premised on racism. 

George Floyd, a man whose peers loved and respected him for his benevolence, had moved from Houston to Minnesota in 2018 in search of a stable job and a new life in a welcoming environment. On Monday, he was pinned to the ground by his neck under a white officer’s knee, pleading for air. After he was hospitalized, he was pronounced dead. 

The officers were acting in response to a report on a forgery incident, and George was the suspect they identified. In their investigative update, the Minneapolis Police department alleged that Floyd had “physically resisted officers” and seemed to be “suffering from medical distress”. The videos that were taken by surrounding civilians, however, contradict these claims; Floyd appeared to be struggling to bring out the words, “I can’t breathe,” in between wheezes for air. The officer did not budge all this while, with his gaze fixed on his suspect, even a while after Floyd fell unconscious.

A witness spoke in an interview for CBS Minnesota, “There’s a black man who died and it could have been prevented, because all he had to do was get his feet off his neck.”

The alleged physical resistance was not there. Rather, Floyd was pleading to the cops, showing vulnerability, not threatening them with malice– even if he had the intentions of doing so, he very clearly physically couldn’t. And he wouldn’t have had to suffer the “medical distress” they were talking about if he wasn’t choked in the first place. Where is the mention of unnecessary force in their statement, the physical harm that the police was inflicting for no reason?

If George Floyd had committed the crime the officers were arresting him for, it still does not serve as justification in any way for him being continuously pressed to the ground in a way that blocked air from entering his lungs, and it certainly doesn’t justify him being put in that position for a prolonged period of time as a reasonable method of arrest. 

In a Facebook Live stream, Mayor Jacob Frey of Minneapolis noted, “…I have not yet seen footage regarding the interaction that preceded what we saw in the video. But regardless of the interaction, the circumstances we saw were unacceptable. Tragic, unacceptable, horrific.”

The Mayor announced in the same interview that the four officers involved in the scene have been discharged. The officer filmed confronting the bystanders has been identified as Tou Thao, and the officer with his leg on Floyd has now been recognized as 19-year department veteran Derek Chauvin. Both these officers have been involved with violent arrests in the past, but this case is not solely a police brutality incident. A photo of Derek Chauvin in an easily identifiable red baseball cap with “Make Whites Great Again” embroidered on it, a more extremist play on words of Donald Trump’s infamous “Make America Great Again” campaign slogan, undeniably verifies his actions as having been driven by underlying racism. 

Hundreds of enraged citizens flooded out into the streets to shout for justice, marching towards a police precinct in the area. As some protesters began to vandalize cars and the station, the police released teargas, threw stun grenades, and fired rubber bullets at the crowd. With the recent anti-lockdown protests in the country that didn’t involve police reinforcement to this degree, this is ever more infuriating. The George Floyd protests fought for a man’s right to life. It’s another addition to the long list of protests that contrast with the far-right’s whiny signs about missed haircut appointments. 

When white supremacists with guns complained about their “right to go outside”, they could push their way into Michigan’s state capitol without being hit with a single rubber bullet. When black civilians with water bottles(wearing masks, by the way) tried to sabotage a police station, they had to flee from advancing tear gas and drench their faces with milk.

By now, I think it’s pretty clear what may often be a deciding factor that determines what initiative police departments will take to manage a protest. 

People were horrified when they witnessed George Floyd’s last moments. Black America was devastated, but not all were as shocked; it was one more traumatizing reminder of the danger of persisting racism against them in their own country. Now George’s daughter has footage of a white man, a police officer that works for justice in her country, murdering her dad that will remain on the internet forever.

The continuous stream of racial injustices, especially as they are reinforced in the Trump era, keep Black Americans on guard at all times and pressure them to feel obligated to disprove the stereotype that paranoid white individuals perceive as a sign of dangerous hostility. This they must do to survive oppression, to go on safely with their lives, just because they are them. 

Photo: Nicole Baster via Unsplash

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