OPINION: “I Can’t Breathe” – The reality of racial violence towards black people


Elle Love

Sign at the Stand Against Injustice event protesting the death of George Floyd. Photo by Mars Nevada/the Gateway.

With the recent tragedies of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and countless other black men under the hands of those with systematic and social power, it’s time we stop glossing over the issue of racial violence.

On July 17, 2014, Eric Garner was choked to death by Officer Daniel Pantaleo, who was captured on video wrapping his arm around Garner’s neck. Garner’s final words, “I can’t breathe” became the rallying cry for Black Lives Matter, his death was the catalyst to start the movement.

The same words are echoed in an eerily, distressing fashion from George Floyd as Officer Derek Chauvin held his knee against Floyd’s neck, as seen by a captured video. What’s most heartbreaking about watching the video is that Floyd may have known he would die in a similar fashion to Garner as he cried out “I’m about to die the same,” before he became unresponsive.

The grim reality of racial violence isn’t anything to shy away from. It’s not just police officers who are disproportionately targeting the black community, however, and these incidents are not isolated.

In 2019, 1,099 people were killed by police brutality, 24% of that number killed were black people; despite being only 13% of the United States’ population, according to a study by the nonprofit research collaborative, Mapping Police Violence. In 2018, 2,426 victims of racially motivated hate crimes in the United States are African Americans, according to the Statista Research Department.

With the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, it is a very vulnerable time for the black community, especially when the virus is also disproportionally affecting them. Death rates among African American (92.3 deaths per 100,000 population) and Hispanic/Latino persons (74.3) that were substantially higher than that of white (45.2) or Asian (34.5), according to a study by NYC Health.

On Feb. 23 of this year, Ahmaud Arbery was jogging through a predominantly white neighborhood, Satilla Shores, and casually observed an unfinished home before he was chased and gunned down by retired white officer, Gregory McMichael and his son George McMichael. He was filmed running away from both men by William “Roddie” Bryan Jr, who was later indicted for charges of felony murder and attempt for false imprisonment.

What’s telling about Arbery’s case is that many Georgia residents have explored the same area without repercussions through multiple videos, many of them were white. But only one video with a curious, young black man looking at the unfinished property is confirmed to be Arbery.

However, this incident is related to several stories of black men and women who are victims of racially charged violence.

Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old black EMT was shot 8 times by Louisville police officers after they barged into her home on an illegal drug search warrant, and Botham Jean, a black accountant shot dead in his own home by his neighbor, Dallas police officer, Amber Guyger.

I’m speaking as a young Black woman, we should pick up where we left off on the national conversation about racial injustice. The violent acts against black people continues to escalate, challenging the given freedom and equal rights we were promised by our government.

For those who want to fight for justice along with us, here are a few tips I have for you. Listen to your black peers when we speak out about it, do not take over the conversation as “a voice for black people” and most important of all – do not be silent about it.

“Even if whites who are silent find the behavior of their peers problematic, their silence allows explicitly resistant participants to continually dictate the agenda of the discussion and rally resources around themselves as facilitators (and others) work to move them forward,” said Robin DiAngelo, Ph.D, author of best White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard For White People To Talk About Racism.

Even if these tragedies happen in areas different from yours, remaining silent to racial injustice makes you a bystander and a part of the problem.

“Although silent whites might recognize and be troubled by the behavior of some of their white cohorts, they ultimately maintain their white privilege by not contesting this behavior,” DiAngelo said.

I’m not against white people, police officers or the military. I am against people who abuse their privilege and their power in a systematic, structural and social setting. If we dismiss the issue of racial violence, it will never die.

Racial violence is increasing disproportionately towards black people. Do not become part of the problem, become the solution.