We Can't Breathe

From an open letter distributed by avaaz.org-

The last words of George Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man, musician, and father of two, who was killed by a Minneapolis police officer who pinned him down and knelt on his neck for almost nine minutes:

"It's my face man

I didn't do nothing serious man
please
please
please I can't breathe
please man
please somebody
please man
I can't breathe
I can't breathe
please
(inaudible)
man can't breathe, my face
just get up
I can't breathe
please, a knee on my neck
I can't breathe
shit
I will
I can't move
mama
mama
I can't
my knee
my neck
I'm through
I'm through
I'm claustrophobic
my stomach hurt
my neck hurts
everything hurts
some water or something
please
please
I can't breathe officer
don't kill me
they're gonna kill me, man
come on man
I cannot breathe
I cannot breathe
they're gonna kill me
they're gonna kill me
I can't breathe
I can't breathe
please sir
please
please
please I can't breathe"

*****

The news has changed.  Until a week ago, the headlines and most of the content were dominated by the Coronavirus and various national plans to relax lockdown restrictions. We were all looking forward – if still with a little trepidation – to extending our bubble. 

Then video footage of an arrest in Minneapolis injected a new virus into our global social fabric, a virus that spread almost instantaneously, not bringing disease, but bringing indignation, outrage and anger, bringing a desire to stand up and shout, and changing the significance of a simple statement – I can’t breathe – perhaps forever.

The dreadful event and viral video footage has triggered riots and violence and perhaps opportunistic anarchy. As human beings we watch the aftermath of the killing of George Floyd with mixed feelings, sensitive to the outrage, appalled by the destruction. But as Jews, we cannot remain silent. Justice is our core business. The Torah tells us to pursue it, and the Prophets rail against those who would turn a blind eye to it. As Jews it is difficult for us to breathe in the face of injustice.

This is injustice writ large, and it is a symptom of an underlying virus of endemic racism. Like Corona it can have a lethal effect on the respiratory system.

Brian Doyle

IJC Rabbinical Intern