Five Years Later and We Still “Can’t Breathe”

“Demilitarize the Police, Black Lives Matter.” November 10, 2015. Johnny Silvercloud

The photo you see before you was taken in 2015. Five years later, we still “can’t breathe.” In fact, it has been more than 150 years that we can’t breathe–we can’t live. I say “we” because racism and its long lasting effects have proved to be as deadly as a pandemic virus, if not surpassing it. We have all been affected by such a stronghold in that we all participate in this dis-ease. Humanity has a knee on its neck and it is RACISM. The worst part is being in denial, especially when one can’t get past one of the first steps of anti-racism work, viz., recognizing one’s own privilege.

The black, brown, and indigenous communities of our country have felt the sting of the dis-ease. It wasn’t just George Floyd–may he R.I.P.–that couldn’t breathe. If we don’t open our eyes and take action we will continue to asphyxiate under the knee of racism along with all of those who have suffered and died by brutality and violence, fed by implicit bias, prejudice, racial-phobias, white supremacy, and systemic racism.

Let’s recognize and take ownership of our participation in the throat kneeling of a people. It’s time to assume one’s responsibility. As a Latino, I call on my fellow Latinx siblings to rise up and unite with our black and brown family, even if you are from the lighter shade of skin colors. Use your privilege to the advantage of another who has less privilege than you! White folk, we need you now more than ever, but you have to listen! Put aside everything you think you know and heed the call of the people of color who have been exhaustingly calling out. Understand that we all play an unconscious role in supporting covert systemic racism. Give it a shot, and not the one that bursts from a gun. What’s the worst that can happen? That you may make the world a more just place?

If one of us can’t breathe, think twice about wasting yours on not calling out, “remove the knee!” Genesis 2.7 reads, “And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life” (KJV Bible). Floyd’s breath was sacred because it was given by God–the same breath that you and I have in our lungs that should be invested in declaring justice. George Floyd along with Ahmaud Arbery, Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Philando Castile, and Breonna Taylor, and others were made in the image of God in the same way you were. We must honor and protect all of the people that share in that sacred image. Breathing is a holy gift and it happens best without knees obstructing its flow.

Black Lives Matter. Slavery isn’t over and its effects are here today and in many ways still protected under law, e.g., 13th amendment. Even when a fire is extinguished in a home, the damage is still left behind. Sometimes houses are condemned and people are forced out until it is rebuilt. The foundation of our very country has been burned by racism and I wonder if we have it in us to rebuild parts of it. We “can’t breathe,” because the soot of the raging fire of racism has infected our lungs. Ask yourselves why COVID-19 is affecting primarily people of color? How have our communities been positioned to be in such a vulnerable place?

Putting out the fire isn’t enough; we must rebuild. Rallying behind a conviction of a perpetrator isn’t enough; we must ensure this doesn’t happen again.

Amén, Amin, and Asé.


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