Op-eds

It’s not complicated – I can’t breathe

  • Howard Feldman 2018
Every now and then we need to feel blind rage. Every now and then we need to set aside political affiliation, religious adherence, and historical context and just feel overwhelming uncomplicated horror, grief, and devastation.
by HOWARD FELDMAN | Jun 04, 2020

Every now and then, we need simply to feel for a man we didn’t know, who lived halfway around the world, and who was murdered in the cruelest manner while he begged for his life.

“I can’t breathe.”

There is no nuance that surrounds the death of George Floyd. There is no claim that the police thought he was armed, that he was endangering anyone, or that he was about to escape from custody. There is no doubting the cause of death in the autopsy. And there is no doubting that the police officer who had him on the ground with his knee pressed into his neck heard him as he pleaded to live.

“I can’t breathe.”

The outrage that followed the death of George Floyd should be felt by all of us, even if the American police force isn’t our own, even if we have never been to the United States, and even if we have a multitude of problems to deal with in an imperfect country. The outrage should be ours even if we are white, while he is black, even if we are Jewish, and he isn’t. And even if we can think of examples of times when no one cared when “one of ours” was targeted.

The outrage should be ours even if we don’t like some of the behaviour of the protestors, and even if we are suspicious and distrustful of Antifa. It should be ours because we are human, and failing to feel for another person is to lack humanity.

“I can’t breathe.”

The death of George Floyd ignited the reaction that it did because it was about so much more than one evil man and his victim. It sparked the rage that it did because finally, it presented an unambiguous example of what many have been feeling and claiming for so long: racism exists, and it’s deadly.

It might be true that Jews are targeted in antisemitic attacks and that the reaction is often subdued. It might be true that many turn a blind eye when acts of terror are carried out against Jews in Israel. And it might be true that very few seem to care that the same terrorists and their families receive financial reward for their actions. And the more they hurt, the greater the reward.

But it’s not relevant. Because when a man begs for his life while another stands above him and crushes him because he’s black, there’s no amount of rationalisation that should allow us to be able to “think” away the pain that we should feel.

And when the rage spills over, we don’t need to agree or like everything about it. So long as we don’t forget what ignited it in the first place.

“I can’t breathe.”

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