I can’t breathe, strange fruits and police brutality

Temps de lecture : 5 minutes

It’s a litany of lifeless bodies falling to the ground. Bullets like pebbles spread around in a macabre display. Last breaths drawn under the knee of an officer. And we’re all watching. And we’re all outraged. It’s a cycle, repeating itself every day until the dam breaks. Again, and again, and again. But where is the mercy when we continue to bury our dead in silence as thick and white as cotton fields in bloom? 

I wrote a first version of this post four years ago, after the consecutive killings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. Four years later, George Floyd, another Minnesotan was murdered by a police officer. Floyd was unarmed and did not resist his arrest. He died nonetheless, his last words echoing those of Eric Garner: ‘I can’t breathe.’ 

I can’t breathe. And you shouldn’t be able to either. 

Photo of George Floyd

On the 5th of July 2016, Alton Sterling was already on the ground and neutralised when he was fatally shot by two police officers over an alleged suspicion of gun possession. Less than 24 hours later, Philando Castile is stopped over a broken tail light. He’ll never get a chance to reach for his ID papers. Officer Yanez shot Castile four times through his car window, killing him on the spot. His girlfriend, who recorded the interaction, is seen being comforted by her own kid daughter — yet another layer of generational trauma.  

Philando Castile & Alton Sterling
Philando Castile and Alton Sterling, both victims of police brutality in July 2016.

Black men and women dying at the hands of the police is a daily occurrence. In the US, 1,099 people have died as the result of an interaction with the police just last year. Black people represent 24% of those deaths despite being 13% of the total population.

Police brutality against minorities isn’t inherently American. European news channels are quick to pick apart US police killings with a moralising (and condescending) tone while turning a blind eye to what’s happening on their own streets.

In France, Blacks and Arabs are twice as likely to be the victims of ‘random’ identity checks and therefore to be hurt or killed by the police. Just recently, a teenager died in very suspicious circumstances after an encounter with the B.A.C (Brigade Anti Criminalité) — an anti-crime faction of the French police well-known for their dubious methods and unchecked violence. Another one almost lost a leg and a third was so badly beaten up, he had to get facial surgery. And this comes after the affaire Théo and the high profile death of Adama Traoré in 2016. Traoré, then 24, died in police custody under circumstances similar to George Floyd. But the absence of video recordings at the time of the killing allowed the police officers involved to spin their own version of the events. A recent independent report found that he was asphyxiated. The world has changed, yet nothing changes. In the last 40 years despite the uproar and the riots, France hasn’t budged on the issue… Police officers still act in total impunity. Fair France, country of Human Rights!  

History seems to keep repeating itself in spite of all the ‘progress’ accomplished. Black people are all but freed from the fear of being murdered for the colour of their skin. Should we talk about Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor too? 

Waking up to these gruesome videos only gets me stewing up in levels of rage and despair I never knew I could feel before. Something so strong it could tear a whole country down. But I am truly torn. It is capital that these videos exist. It is capital because it’s their word against ours. It is capital that we are believed where there’s only defiance and distrust for our beings and experiences. But the toll it takes on our mental health is immeasurable. 

The killing of Black people has become a spectacle with myriads of videos plastered all over social media and television; a morbid voyeurism which the families of the departed can never escape. The last breath of our loved-ones should be allowed to be private. Is there any time left to mourn when we’re fuelled by collective fury?   

As I try to nurture my love for the human race, I have no forgiveness left in me. Not in the face of centuries of alienation, mistreatments, physical and psychological torture, and arbitrary killings of people looking just like me, for who we are, for the melanin in our skin. 

You’ve heard their names before. Tamir, Trayvon, Eric, Laquan, Michael, Rekia, Mya, Sandra, Alton, Philando and countless others. None of the police officers involved in their deaths have been convicted for their crimes.

They all said they feared for their lives. But tell me, what is there to fear to point at and shoot someone who shows no signs of resisting you, someone already pinned down to the ground with two, three, four of you crushing their spine?

What is so frightening about a Black body that your first and only response is to feel threatened? Talking to you is threatening. Looking at you is threatening. Standing still in front of you is threatening. Pleading for our lives is threatening. Begging, crying, screaming that we’re scared to die is threatening.

So tell me exactly, when are we not threatening?

Time and again, police officers have proven their ability to de-escalate violence when white mass-murderers are involved… While some are rewarded with burgers for shooting black churchgoers, others end up in black body bags over alleged crimes. Aren’t we human enough to deserve one more day? It can’t be right that a gorilla in a zoo sparks more outrage and draws more sympathy than Black blood on police hands. 

Today spare me your false rhetoric on Black on Black crime. Spare me your theories about the culture of violence in Black communities. The system we live in has been rigged since day one. There is not one day we haven’t been fighting oppression, white supremacy and systemic racism in countries that have built their wealth wielding whips over black people’s bent backs. 

Police brutality is rooted in slave codes that ruled Black lives from the day they were snatched and shipped to the Americas. We were properties, livestock, furniture… never human. It only changed for us to be strange fruits swinging in the breeze.

What is it about Black skin that is so scary that we have to be subdued at all costs? We only asked for equality, for a fair chance to work, have a home, a family; to simply be able to live — without a target on our backs.

Have some decency… don’t all-lives-matter the issue when the injustice constantly target the same group of people. 

When will you admit there is a problem since no one wants to be treated as a Black person in America.

We are tired. We’ve asked politely, marched, demonstrated, peacefully protested, lifted our arms, raised our fists and our voices. And yet, here we are, standing still as ever. Black lives still don’t matter. 

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