Molefi Kete Asante Can't Breathe


Eric Garner’s plaintive, muffled death cry, “I can’t breathe” reverberates throughout the history of African people in America. We have been trapped in the claws of psychological death that crushed our chests and broke the stream of life giving air needed for breathing since 1619 and this history has been punctuated by lynching, shootings, choking, and other forms of horrible brutality.  The violence of physical assaults is often accompanied by attempts to cast policeman killers as victims of fear. In most cases, the policeman has the gun and we have just our skins. When people are shot down like unwanted dogs, choked to death by arrogant attackers, tortured almost to death by men-in-blue for no other reason than their color or race, then there must be another term. It is not police brutality.

Unwarranted killing of black men must be called murder. The unlawful taking of the lives of black people, such as revealed in the homicide of Eric Garner, Michael Brown, and Tamir Rice, is nothing else. I fear the continuation of this type of police violence has the potential to create a domestic response from the black community of the type we have never seen.

What is clear now is that the real crime of Mumia Abu Jamal, the noted journalist who remains locked in a Pennsylvania prison, is that he encountered a policeman and survived a shooting while the policeman died. Had Mumia been killed the police officer would probably never have been indicted if recent histories from Missouri and New York were any lessons.

Police departments have become the last repositories of unbridled racism of the kind practiced in the past by the KKK. Whether the police departments attract such individuals or seem to be the home for whites who simply want to be able to get away with mistreating, brutalizing, or killing black people, I am certain that federal investigations are necessary. What is more significant is what Eric Garner said when the Staten Island police approached him, “This stops today!”

Molefi Kete Asante, author of Erasing Racism: The Survival of the American.,,

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