I Can’t Breathe

Minnesota man, George Floyd, dies in custody of the Minnesota police force on Monday, May 25

Marchers+in+Benicia%2C+California+taken+on+May+31%2C+2020.+Photo+courtesy+of+Kameron+Lane.

Marchers in Benicia, California taken on May 31, 2020. Photo courtesy of Kameron Lane.

Aliya Prosser and Seraiah Laporte

       Monday, May 25 sparked an uproar of protests following the death of Minnesota citizen, George Floyd. He was a 46-year-old African-American man who was born and raised in Minneapolis where he returned after college to become a family man. On this day, he was reported to the police regarding a potential forgery for buying cigarettes with counterfeit money. According to the criminal complaint, once the police arrived, Floyd was ordered to step aside from his car and began to resist the four officers before him. It was reported that Floyd told the police he was claustrophobic. The officers then handcuffed Floyd and began to force him face-down on the street in a position that rendered him motionless. After they stabilized Floyd on the ground, officer Derek Chauvin pinned his knee over him for eight minutes and 46 seconds. With him, officer J. Alexander Kueng held Floyd’s back, officer Thomas K. Lane held Floyd’s legs, and officer Tou Thao stood by the policemen as he watched the scene. Within this time, Floyd fell unconscious as Chauvin continued to press his knee over his neck, an action that cost Floyd his life. The New York Times states that although bystanders at the site were calling out to get help for Floyd, Chauvin only removed his knee a minute after the paramedics arrived. The incident was recorded through the smartphones of several bystanders in Minneapolis, and over the surveillance footage of the store they were adjacent to, spreading the news rapidly to local citizens and Americans throughout the country. In these recordings Floyd is depicted pleading with statements like “Please”, “I can’t breathe”, and “Don’t kill me”. 

       Floyd’s death sparked mass outrage and brought attention to the  Black Lives Matter movement, founded in 2013 after the death of Trayvon Martin. 

       The New York Times writes that the four policemen were fired the day after the incident, but the minimal consequences they faced prompted a focus towards the culture of police brutality, a discussion that has been prevalent throughout history. Officer Derek Chauvin was charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter while the other three officers, Thomas Lane, J.A Kueng, and Tou Thoa were not charged. Black individuals and supporters of the Black Lives Matter movement are using their voices to remember the life of George Floyd, and stimulate a reaction that brings justice to the unethical system that caused this crime. 

       In our own community, the Milford Police Department, led by Chief Mello, shared their thoughts on the George Floyd case. As many law enforcement officers did, they stated the incident is “…beyond disturbing and casts a strain over the law enforcement profession and the dedicated men and women who strive to protect and serve their communities with honor.” 

       The case demonstrated a lack of accountability within the criminal justice system. The MPD states, “…behavior in these videos reflect failures in police tactics, judgement and training.” The MPD concludes with the statement, “ Every person deserves to be treated with dignity and respect, this is the foundation of our profession. Any violation of these core tenets is inexcusable. Every day, Every Incident Matters. ”

Drawing of George Floyd drawn on May 26, 2020. Photo courtesy of Shirien Damra.

       The death of George Floyd has led to many marches, protests, riots, campaigns, petitions, and more to help spread awareness of justice for not only Floyd, but other African Americans who face injustice in America. Marches around major cities like New York, Boston, Atlanta, Washington D.C, Las Vegas, Chicago, New Haven, Minneapolis, and more have been occurring over the past six days. Numerous advocates use their voice to march in the protests while some turn to their social media to speak on the issue, sign petitions, or donate. As this becomes a major historical event for the future, viewing this as a student or teen can spark many opinions. 

       Senior Brianna Aguilar shares, “ I was extremely upset about George Floyd’s death..his death was in lack of better words, the last straw. Many people have been moved by this inhumane action and are demanding change.” Rallies and protests across Connecticut have blocked traffic and highways calling for change. 

       Floyd’s brother, Terrence Floyd has been calling for peace and unity and not “destructive unity.” 

       Protests aren’t new, under Martin Luther King Jr. many peaceful protests occurred and following his assassination, rioting and more violent protesting began putting pressure on President Johnson to enact change. According to history.com, shortly afterward, the Fair Housing Act was signed. 

       Senior Dylan Fernandez comments, “While I completely get the outrage and need for change following the death of George Floyd, I disagree with all the violent protests and riots happening around the country. I feel like it is counterproductive to tear apart cities and commit violent actions that only increase the tension between cops and their communities. I wish more people would have meaningful conversations with their police departments instead of burning down buildings and cars and looting them to get their attention. It does make me happy however to see a lot of positive protests and discussions happening between police and their communities around the nation right now.”

       This event left not only many U.S citizens speechless, but others protesting around the world. In order to see change Aguilar shares, “ I think those who are over 18 need to vote for legislators that will implement policies to hold police responsible and will reform the corrupt police system. Those of all ages can contact current legislators, attend peace protests, donate, and educate themselves as well as others.”

       In a country founded under its values for liberty and justice, the death of George Floyd calls attention to the inequities that exist in America. Now, citizens begin to challenge the criminal justice system by voicing the stories of those who have been victimized from it, and demanding a government that treats all citizens equally.