I woke up yesterday morning to a video recording of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota. He was moaning and pleading “I can’t breathe. Please, I can’t breathe!”
I stared at the image of a police officer’s knee on his neck, a knee that would remain there for over 5 minutes. George Floyd was surrounded by three other officers who never once considered loosening the grip of his noose. One officer’s gaze dared any onlooker to question his actions of Black Lives Matter defiance. Surveying the crowd with indignant eyes, he poised to exercise his muscles of terror on anyone who dared to threaten his catch-of-the-day photo-op. I couldn’t stomach to watch for more than 30 seconds.
The officers were responding to the suspicion of a forgery taking place: An unarmed, we-have-you-on-the-ground, surrounded and subdued, forgery suspect. A man hoping to be seen as worthy of dignity. Worthy of basic decency. Worthy of being allowed to breathe. Instead he was guilty of false hope. With his face forcefully scraping the asphalt, he was also found guilty of impersonating a human being; a complete counterfeit of a man whose life mattered. The exception to being a child of God. A man was lynched by the police yesterday.
Minutes before this story, there was an incident of a woman calling the police in Central Park. She called 9-1-1 and fired off the phrase, “I’m being threatened by an African-American man!”—like a loaded gun. Amy Cooper pointed her historically deadly, Emmett Till-engraved, verbal weapon more than once. Frantically stating, again for effect, the threat to both her and her dog, she demanded the same level of obedience from a man who should have every reason to be afraid.
Amy Cooper said the words “African American” as an indictment of a crime already committed. How dare you demand your humanity with me, the move insisted. As justice would have it, the video of her threatening rant was unleashed to a disapproving public—a public not impressed with her ability to remember all the lines from her Birth of a Nation, Jim Crow era, damsel-in-distress plays. After her theatrical phone call went viral, then came the written, requisite, if-anyone-was-offended statement. She noted being humble, twice, as she issued an “I desperately want to keep my job and my non-racist reputation” apology. She asked for forgiveness for an intentional threat: the kind of 9-1-1 calling threat that could easily be categorized as an attempted murder. One man averted being lynched yesterday by white supremacy while another was taken.
Harvard graduate Christian Cooper (the Black man with the latest hashtag #BirdWatchingWhileBlack) says he continued recording Ms. Cooper because he wasn’t going to be intimidated and would not participate in his own dehumanization.
Begging the question: How many people out there continue their silent, complicit participation in Black dehumanization? How many families? How many institutions? How many systems? How many churches?
I don’t know the answer to that question. And I’m no longer holding my breath.
My Black life was already out of breath when I woke up this morning.
Already enduring too many laps of the resilience and lament race, not having the privilege of dealing with and relaxing my way through episodic grief, I instead needed a psychological ventilator to resuscitate my breathing from the 24-hour news levels of pain and anguish.
Sure, I remain standing. Knowing that Black Lives Matter to God. That in addition to creating life, God is the author and finisher of life, the One who actually sings and delights over my life, who sits on the throne of righteousness and justice, who literally breathed life into all humankind.
My hope is out of breath
My patience is out of breath
My trust is out of breath
My peace is out of breath
My joy is out of breath
My tears are out of breath
My words are out of breath
My love is out of breath
My prayers are out of breath
My longing for justice is out of breath
A man was lynched by the police yesterday.
Out here in these pandemic streets.
He couldn’t breathe.
When will we be able to breathe?