In the wake of a slew of incidents of anti-Black violence, it is more apparent than ever that especially during a pandemic our Black lives don’t matter. Just this week, George Floyd was killed after being profiled and brutalized by a white officer in Minneapolis. In an instant, the officer acted as judge, jury, and executioner, snuffing out the life of the 46-year-old man for the crime of existing while Black. In his final moments, during which the officer knelt on his neck for nearly 10 minutes while three other officers stood idly by, Floyd pleaded for his life and gasped, “I can’t breathe,” a phrase that will forever echo in our collective memory as a chilling reminder of the killing of Eric Garner and the justice that never followed. As with Garner, Floyd’s final moments were uploaded online and went viral for the world to see.
Floyd’s killing is far from an isolated incident of anti-Blackness in these dire times. The abundance of examples is mind numbing: from the violent enforcement of social distancing in New York City, to the racist murder of Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia, the police killings of Breonna Taylor in Louisville and Tony McDade in Tallahassee, the transphobic killings of Lexi in Harlem and Nina Pop in Missouri, the weaponized white tears by “Central Park Karen,” and the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 in Black communities around the country. We are witnessing the cogs of a machine dead set on devaluing Black life grinding forward at an alarming pace.
Adding insult to injury, as we are all glued to our screens yearning for a light at the end of the tunnel of these “unprecedented times,” the same channels upon which we rely for critical updates on the public health outbreak are a minefield of collective trauma for Black folk. While we suffer the entirely preventable passing of loved ones at disproportionate rates, the incessant airing of Black bodies brutalized in the streets makes death feel inescapable. These lynchings of modern design are featured on loop by media outlets and shared, retweeted, and blogged across social media for public consumption, reinvoking generational traumas. We are faced with dueling disasters: a mortal threat to our physical wellbeing atop countless traumas to the psyche. This is not without precedent, but the moment is unique in that everywhere we look we are reminded of our disposability.
As many colleagues have already stated, the pandemic has cast the country under a blacklight, laying bare enduring structural inequities. It has exposed the true nature of white supremacy: It is not the shark lurking in the deep, but the water itself — and more than ever we are drowning in it. So long as we exist in a country that devalues Black lives, and where the smog of racism, misogyny, ableism, and queerphobia poisons the very air we breathe, we will continue to see violence enacted on our bodies with utter impunity at staggering rates.
Police brutality is not a bug in this system, but a crucial feature of an institution that is predicated on, and whose primary directive is, the protection of property and capital. The police are an extension of a genocidal settler colonial project, running in parallel with structural violence and environmental racism. These systems operate with the express intent of separating families, disappearing members of Black, Brown, and Indigenous communities, and facilitating terror and compliance. Policing is, by definition, violence, and George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and Tony McDade are merely the latest victims in the centuries-long project of a country that has subsisted on a diet of our blood, sweat, and tears. From slave patrols to police killings, the agents of the state have reiterated countless times their dominance and ownership over Black lives. As it stands, any demand for basic dignity will always run counter to the interests of the police state and its capitalist mandarins. The only way to break this cycle is to dismantle it.
George Floyd should still be here. Ahmaud Arbery should still be here. Breonna Taylor and Tony McDade should still be here. Lexi and Nina should still be here. For their sakes, we must continue to demand a world free from police and prisons, articulate that a world of our manifesting is not only possible, but inevitable, and center Black healing in the struggle ahead. In this moment and that which follows, we must reject a return to an unjust normal and chart a path forward into an era of accountability, justice, and repair.
Lexi Webster is the Communications Assistant for the Center for Constitutional Rights