On Monday George Floyd lay on the ground with the knee of a police officer pressed down upon his neck. In pain and fearing for his life, he states “I can’t breathe”. Moments later he lay motionless. Not long after he is pronounced dead.
Although George Floyd was clearly the ultimate victim of this horrendous crime, the issue goes far beyond this one incident. It even goes beyond the problem of black men dying at the hands of police. This atrocity and numerous others like it are not just crimes against individuals. They are crimes against every black man, woman and child in the US.
Because it’s not just a knee in the back of the neck that can lead one to suffocate. It is also suffocating to live a life in fear of this brutality. Fear of jogging, fear of reaching into your pocket, fear of being pulled over in your car, or even the fear of what can happen sitting in the comfort of your own home. Fear of basic things that most of us wouldn’t even think twice about. Things that can and often do lead to death if you’re an African American in the United States.
And so they riot. They riot because they are tired of not being able to breathe unstifled. They are tired of having to prove themselves. To prove that they are not violent. To prove that they are decent. To prove that they are deserving of basic humanity.
They are tired of living in fear. Fear that they will make one wrong move, say one wrong word. Tired of the constant state of alertness they need to sustain. Tired of the fear that one day their sons won’t come home.
They riot because despite raising their voices, despite showing the world the injustice they face, this is the only approach they have left. They riot because despite speaking loudly and convincingly they continue to be unheard. They riot because nothing has changed, the deaths still occur and people still continue to defend the indefensible.
While I may not agree with their actions it is not difficult to understand why they have resorted to this. I understand why, after trying to use the proper channels time and time again, they now feel they have no choice but to take this route.
They have as much right to live a peacefully as any of us, to live a life without the constant worries and fears. They have the right to be treated with dignity and respect. They have the right to not have to worry about the looming threat of harassment and brutality. They have the right of the most basic of human needs: to breathe.