National View: Being black in US like a suffocating knee to the neck

Kelton Brooks headshot.jpg
Kelton Brooks

Inhale. Hold it. Now exhale. You’re breathing, pumping life into your lungs.

George Floyd is not.

The breath of Eric Garner was forcibly stopped on a Staten Island, New York, street corner by an officer's chokehold in 2017. In between his final and shortened inhale and delayed exhale, he gasped, “I can’t breathe.”

Three years later in Minneapolis, George Floyd groaned those same words in the same context in the same plea to spare his life: “I cannot breathe.”

Inhale. Hold it. Hold it like the officer who held, buried, and pinned his knee into the neck of a defenseless and handcuffed Floyd on the ground.


“I cannot breathe,” Floyd was heard repeatedly saying on a cell phone video recorded by a bystander.

Was that breath too hard to hold? Now exhale. A sigh of disbelief. It really happened. Again.

Floyd laid motionless on the pavement. The officer’s knee still remained jammed into Floyd’s neck. Floyd was unresponsive long before the ambulance arrived.

Being black in America feels like a suffocating knee in your neck when you see another George Floyd, another Ahmed Aubrey, another Eric Garner, another Botham Jean, another Breonna Taylor, another Sean Bell, another Alton Sterling, another Philando Castille, another Tamir Rice, and another Trayvon Martin.

Take another breath. Inhale. But don't hold your breath waiting on an arrest or conviction of the four Minneapolis police officers who were fired as a result of Floyd’s death. History isn’t in favor of black and brown people when it’s time to convict a police officer for police brutality. Since 2005, 98 non-federal law enforcement officers have been arrested in connection with fatal, on-duty shootings, according to the Police Integrity Research Group. To date, only 35 of those officers have been convicted of a crime, often a lesser offense such as manslaughter or negligent homicide rather than murder.

Only three officers have been convicted of murder between 2005 through 2019 and have seen their convictions stand. Only 22 officers were acquitted in a jury trial, and nine were acquitted during a bench trial decided by a judge.

Termination from a job is not justice. There is no satisfaction in weighing a loss of an occupation versus the loss of a life.

Martin Luther King is often turned into a pacifist instead of the piercing reverend who vibrated the spirit of his people before he was assassinated. These are his words: “We cannot walk alone. And as we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead. We cannot turn back. There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights, ‘When will you be satisfied?’ We can never be satisfied as long as the negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality.”


Inhale. Hold it. Now exhale.

We can never be satisfied as long as the negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality.

Kelton Brooks of Nashville is a former newspaper reporter who covered law enforcement, courts, and sports. He wrote this for the News Tribune.

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