Those, of course, were the famous last words of Eric Garner. And, despite all the “conversations” and investigations his death provoked, deadly encounters of this sort – between white cops and black men – continue to happen.
But I’ve infuriated fans and bedeviled haters in equal measure over the years by pointing out that assigning fault in these cases is not always black and white. I refer you to “DOJ: No Charges Warranted in Garner Case,” July 17, 2019, for a summation of my nuanced, but invariably vindicated, take on some of the more infamous ones in recent years.
All the same, there have been, and I fear will continue to be, egregious exceptions like the killings of Walter Scott and Philando Castile, which I commented on in “Three White Cops Kill Two Black Men,” May 3, 2017.
In a video shared on social media early Tuesday, a Minneapolis police officer pins his knee against the neck of a black man who appears to be struggling to breathe on the ground.
‘I cannot breathe! I cannot breathe!’ the man yells as bystanders gather. ‘Don’t kill me!’
Floyd died hours later at a local hospital. His alleged crime? A forgery in progress … and resisting arrest.
But two prevailing factors explain why the cop involved should be getting his affairs in order to spend the rest of his life in prison:
- The police department will be loath to explain that, its officers are so poorly trained, one of them ended up killing a man over an alleged forgery. Because, even if Floyd had survived, what we see on that video constitutes more of an institutional indictment against the police than a criminal one against him. This is why, instead of admitting any institutional fault or prejudice (as it should), the department will throw this bastard under the bus.
- Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey telegraphed his police department’s intent with this incriminating (but wholly warranted) confession:
Being black in America should not be a death sentence. For five minutes, we watched as a white officer pressed his knee to the neck of a black man. … When you hear someone calling for help, you are supposed to help. This officer failed in the most basic human sense.
(CNN, May 26, 2020)
Frankly, if ever there were a case for presuming guilt, this is it. What’s more, the mayor effectively sealed this cop’s fate with that televised statement.
That said, as indicated above, these tragedies usually trigger feckless, traffic-jamming protests and calls for national conversations on race. But I hope we’ll be spared all that this time.
Instead, I urge black men to finally heed my call to join the police force in droves. Because the surest way to reduce these fatal encounters is to have more black cops patrolling their own communities.
It is a curious thing that black men seem so willing to cede that role (to protect their own) to white men, who seem all too disposed to patrolling black communities like invading soldiers.