George Floyd death sets America on Fire
“Mama, Mama. I can’t breathe, man. Please, I can’t breathe.”
These are the chilling last words of 46-year-old George Floyd.
Floyd, an unarmed black man, died just over a week ago in Minneapolis after a white police officer, Derek Chauvin, knelt on his neck for nine minutes while Floyd repeatedly and frantically complained that he could not breathe.
The words, captured on phone recordings made by onlookers who begged police to stop what they were doing, are haunting.
The video of what happened is equally disturbing.
It beggars belief, at first.
Floyd, who was laid-off from his job as a security guard due to the pandemic, was accused of having used a counterfeit 20-dollar bill to try to buy something. Police claimed he resisted arrest, yet video footage that has since emerged has shown Floyd to be cooperative.
He becomes gradually and terrifyingly more distressed as he realises he can’t breathe. Just the thought of it is enough to make you nauseous; Floyd’s anguish must have been excruciating, unimaginable.
Derek Chauvin, the thug masquerading as a cop, refuses numerous times to remove his knee from Floyd’s neck. In fact, it’s only as paramedics arrive on the scene that he finally does so – after being asked by the medics to stand back. But by this time, nine minutes have elapsed and the damage has been done.
At this point, father-of-one George Floyd, is already unconscious. Chauvin’s three colleagues who had sat on Floyd’s torso and pinned him down, don’t come out of it any better. They are indifferent, while the life of an innocent man drains from his body, literally right in front of their eyes.
It is stomach-churning to watch these events unfold, but in the era of the smartphone and social media, there is no hiding place for anyone [which happens to be a very good thing in this particular instance].
From a distance, we watch on as Trump’s America gives credence to a nation of racists and macho bullies, angry white men who feel they’re more invincible now than ever. And they are.
We’re tucked away safely here in Ireland, where it could be easy to shrug off another police killing in the US.
But it struck me, thinking about George Floyd, just how utterly awful it would be if such a thing were to happen here.
But it’s in thinking about it happening here, that we get more of a sense of the reality of this horrible situation.
Imagine this had happened in Buncrana, or Moville or Carn.
Imagine, for a second, that on a busy Monday afternoon, in the middle of an Inishowen town, a shopkeeper rings the guards because he suspects that someone is trying to pass a counterfeit note [this is actually something that happens quite regularly here].
Imagine then that the Gardai arrive. They handcuff an unarmed man. Onlookers are starting to gather. One of the guards puts a knee on the man’s neck, while three others pin him down so that he can’t move a muscle.
You are standing by. You can see the man fighting for breath. You ask them to let the man stand up – after all, he’s already been cuffed.
They refuse to listen to you, and right there and then you watch a man die on the street before you. Imagine that was the scene on Buncrana Main Street, or the Diamond in Carn, or the Square in Moville. Imagine that had happened here.
When you think about it like that, it’s easier to understand why Trump’s America is burning and why that country may never fully heal from his divisive and relentless campaign of incitement and hate.
The protests, which have been continuing across a politically and radically divided America, have been seen before.
There are cries of ‘Justice for George Floyd’ but George Floyd will never get justice. George Floyd doesn’t get anything anymore, because George Floyd is dead.
Justice should be served upon Derek Chauvin, the thug who pinned down a defenceless man and robbed him of oxygen.
Chauvin has been charged with third degree murder and manslaughter. Though would anyone really be surprised if he walks after the trial?
The attorney representing George Floyd’s family wants the charges upgraded to first-degree murder, arguing that Chauvin displayed intent.
“We think that [Chauvin] had intent, based on not the one minute, two minute, but over eight minutes, almost nine minutes he kept his knee on a man’s neck that was begging and pleading for breath,” said Benjamin Crump, a longtime civil rights attorney.
It’s hard to argue with that assessment.
Of course the protests and mass rioting, which have taken place across America since Floyd’s death, are about much more than the brutal killing of one man.
The murder of George Floyd represents a deep-seated racism that has been engrained in so many parts of the culture in the United States for so long; from the days of slavery to Emmett Till, Martin Luther King, Rodney King and Amadou Diallo, who was shot 41 times on the streets of New York in 1999, prompting the powerful Springsteen song: ‘41 Shots’ two years later.
“If you’re black you might as well not show up on the street, ’less you want to draw the heat,” wrote Bob Dylan in 1975’s Hurricane, a song about black boxer Rubin Carter framed by the cops for murder.
You could fill the Encyclopaedia Britannica with other such cases.
It is painstakingly obvious that black lives do not matter to Derek Chauvin, and the many like him, who hide behind the uniform of the State.
The bigger problem though is when the President of the country is the biggest racist of them all.
Trump’s version of America should burn. And every one with a conscience or sense of humanity over there has a moral obligation to shout loud and keep that fire burning until something changes.
We hope that George Floyd will rest in peace.
It looks like America will see no great peace in the weeks and months ahead.
As for justice? We’ll see.