“I can`t breathe”- a plea for life

On May 25, 2020, an African American man died while being arrested by the police. A video recording taken by a bystander chronicled the incident showed a white police officer pinning Floyd to the ground while he was handcuffed. The police officer’s knee pressed down on Floyd’s neck until Floyd’s consciousness left his body. Floyd could be heard pleading with the officer for his life saying, “Please, I can’t breathe”

The growing and the seemingly never-ending list of Black people killed as a result of deep-seated hatred, fear, and discrimination that is embedded in the fabric of the United States has hit another boiling point. The unjustified killing of Floyd has been marked by protests, and pleas for policy change, and reform.

Black people are fed up of a system that has generationally misled, disrespected, disregarded, excluded, and unjustifiably incarcerated and killed them. This is why protests are still going on in the United States amidst the outbreak of Covid-19. Protests in the United States in the wake of George Floyd’s death in the custody of Minneapolis police have brought new attention to police officers’ attitudes toward Black Americans, protesters, and others. The numerous stories of police brutalities and killings of unarmed African-Americans are not just stories about Black people but a story about all of us. As Chris Rock once said, “you cannot have bad apples in an airline, all it takes is one bad pilot to crash an entire plane, all it takes is one bad cop to crash an entire country.”

We need to end police brutality – all police officers in this world must protect and safeguard. It goes without saying that out of respect for this duty they shouldn’t be stepping on the necks nor on the human rights of people they swore to protect. Liberty and justice for all should mean people of every colour and creed. Yet, if a person’s skin is considered as a weapon, we will always be considered armed and extremely dangerous.  

As the incident made global headlines, it has been caught between the resurgence of systemic racism and lockdown protests.  Many similar killings of Black lives by police happen everywhere even in my country when the conflict between civilians and police forces occurs.

As Black people in China, we must stand in solidarity with those taking to the streets in protest of these incidents despite the fact that we can’t physically join them or organise similar rallies of our own. We have an additional responsibility to reflect on our own predicament here, the injustices we frequently see and the part we can and must all play in levelling the playing field – if not for ourselves then for the Black people who will undoubtedly come after us.  

This might seem like a daunting task for us over here – in this country issues of racial discrimination and anti-Blackness are frequently brushed under the carpet and dismissed. In the spirit of Sankofa, we might be able to gain some insight into the best way to proceed by looking back to the genesis of the Black Lives Matter movement itself.  

Inception of Black lives matters

Black Lives Matter is an activist movement that began as a hashtag (#BlackLivesMatter) when in July 2013, white civilian George Zimmerman was acquitted in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed African American teenager killed in Florida. The Black Lives Matter movement became widely acknowledged and highlighted after two 2014 high-profile deaths of unarmed African American men. Till today, the concept of Black lives matter is still being used in the fight against social injustice and the unjustified killings of our Black people. The concept of Black lives matters does not claim black supremacy nor does it state a need for special treatment towards people of colour but instead it strives to voice and highlight how we feel, whilst fighting for, and preserving our much-valued lives and dignity.

Systemic Racism 

Systemic racism is defined as: “the marginalisation or oppression of people of colour based on a socially constructed racial hierarchy that privileges white people.”  Racism shows up in all aspects of our lives and society: in interpersonal communication, through discriminatory policies and practices, microaggressions, and laws and institutions.

Many see Floyd’s death as an example of systemic racism, referring to the way race disadvantages people of colour in the justice system. Research shows that African American people are 2.5 times more likely to be killed by police than white people, for example. 

How Hate and Bias Escalate 

The pyramid of hate illustrates how biased attitudes and behaviours grow in complexity from the bottom up. Like a pyramid, the upper levels are supported by the lower levels and it becomes increasingly difficult to challenge and dismantle as behaviours and segmented and escalate.  Bias at each level negatively impacts individuals, institutions, and societies. When biases go unchecked, it becomes “normalised” and contributes to a pattern of accepting and reaffirming discrimination, hate, and injustice in society.  Despite the differences in the history of the US and

our host country, this is an important reminder as to why rooting out these biases is of utmost importance.

Floyd’s death shows an abject failure to live up to the American ideal of liberty and justice for all, in the words of US Ambassador to Niger, Eric P. Whitaker.  Even though that liberty or justice has always been denied to people of colour. This incident has rightly prompted difficult and much-needed conversations in the United States on issues of race, justice, and change. It also serves as a reminder of the enduring importance of tolerance and the accountability of security forces in every country. Here in China, the conversation continues too – how does anti-Blackness manifest in a Chinese context and what should we expect and demand from our host nation going forward. What structures do we have in place to ensure we receive equal treatment? What can we do in our individual capacity?

African Americans should indeed be supported in their fights against the system of injustice which they still face every day in their so-called land of freedom. We as Africans on the continent and in the diaspora should sincerely support their struggle to reform the system and save innocent Black lives from unjustified brutalities and killings. The ex-ambassador of the African Union to the United States Dr. Arikana Chihombori Quao in her statement about George Floyd, strongly condemned the killings of Black people in America as she gave a brief look back on slavery. She notably added that calling out white supremacy does not equate to calling all white people bad and called on those with white privilege to do more to benefit all of humanity. Similarly, we should be asking and expecting our friends of other races here to be invested in ensuring the end of anti-blackness in China too.  

Like any human of colour who has issued statements firmly declaring our humanity in light of the most recent American incident, this article is not just a piece of thought but is also my statement to the world about brutalities and killings of innocent lives. I can’t breathe must be treated as a wakeup call for all nations.

What do you think?

Written by Willy Munenguni

Willy is a Namibian human rights activist, author of scholastic articles, public speaker, IT technician and former teacher based in Nantong, Jiangsu.


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