The recent killings of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd has put me back into a place I know all too well. A place of sadness, anger, frustration, grief, and exhaustion brought on by images of another person who looks like me being killed on my social media feed.
If you’re feeling the same, we need something deeper and stronger to cling to. Slowly, I’m finding a way to not let the relentless exhaustion pull me into hopelessness, rage, or despair. We have to both process how we are feeling and find real hope.
So many names and stories flood my memories. In the past week, one name, in particular, has risen to the surface, Eric Garner.
On July 17, 2014, in New York City, Eric Garner was stopped by two plainclothes officers. He was wrestled to the ground in a chokehold and then held down by a group of officers. As his head was pushed face-first into the sidewalk he uttered the same phrase heard by George Floyd, “I can’t breathe.”
The images of both these men in their final moments haunt me. I see their faces and I hear their words.
“I can’t breathe.”
This phrase expresses how I feel as a black man in this country.
As a Black man in America, I can’t breathe because I know the color of my skin says I’m a threat to people.
As a Black man, I can’t breathe because I can’t share my feelings without them being dismissed.
As a Black man, I can’t breathe because 400 years of oppression have taught me that even when I speak up for justice, a white person will try to control how I should engage, feel, respond, and act in the fight for equality and justice. Even my allies will try to hijack whatever personal message or story I’m trying to share to say what they think needs to happen.
As a Black man, I can’t breathe because I know my wife, mother, and sisters hold their breath every time I step out the door to engage in protest or calls for justice let alone everyday life.
As a Black man, I can’t breathe because my bold, aggressive, and passionate way of living life is seen as threatening but when my white counterparts do it they are great leaders.
As a Black man in America, I can’t breathe. I feel trapped underneath the weight of a country whose wealth and status in the world was built on the back of slavery, Jim Crowe, segregation, and mass incarcerations of black and brown people.
It is a crushing weight, chokehold, and noose that tries every day to squeeze the life out of me. And in some moments, it gets the best of me. There are days when I am gasping on the floor for air. The anger and pain try to overwhelm me and I’m left with nothing but rage and tears.
But I am thankful that there is a God who is with me in all these moments.
As a son of God, I know that he puts breath in my nostrils and fills my lungs.
As a son of God, I know my skin color was created by him as a beautiful masterpiece.
As a son of God, I know he sees and sits with me in my pain, anger, frustration, rage, and despair.
As a son of God, I know he calls me to speak up for justice and peace.
As a son of God, I know that he gives peace to my wife, mother, and sisters and quiets their fears.
As a son of God, I know he has made me bold, aggressive, and passionate to lead my family, friends, and community.
America may try to choke me out, put a knee on my neck, and hang me from a tree. The brokenness of this world may do everything it can to try and take my breath away. But God will surely breathe new life into my lungs every day.