The Crime of Breathing While Black

Almost every day, we wake up to the news of another African American being murdered or harassed by police officers, former law enforcement officers, pseudo cops, and folks eager to make a citizen arrest.

Just recently, Ahmaud Arbery was killed while jogging in Georgia, and Breonna Taylor was murdered while relaxing at home. And on Memorial Day, another African American victim, George Floyd, was heard on videotape begging for his life as a Minneapolis police officer restrained him with a knee on his neck. This latest fatality from the hands of law enforcement eerily resembles the murder of Eric Garner in 2014. Once again, we are forced to hear the words of a dying black man: “I can’t breathe!”  

Laquan McDonald, Tamir Rice, Sean Bell, and Trayvon Martin are just some of the names we have heard in recent years, but the list is too long and painful to do a complete roll call. However, we can also add Emmett Till’s brutal murder in 1955, even though the brutality goes back much further than the 1950s.

Laquan was walking away, Tamir was playing with a toy, Sean was about to get married, Trayvon was eating Skittles, and 14-year-old, Emmett, was accused of whistling at a white woman. In each instance, the Black victim was viewed as the aggressor.

Unfortunately, breathing while Black is threatening!

If breathing while Black is dangerous to others, engaging in recreational activities is deadly to us.

Two years ago, in the city of brotherly love, Philadelphia police arrested two African American men for conducting a business meeting in a local Starbucks. For Blacks, drinking coffee in a public place is now threatening to others.

When we are not busy worrying about rogue cops, we also have to worry about folks making citizen arrest. If it is not BBQ Becky breaking up a cookout in Oakland, CA, it is Permit Patty calling the police on eight-year-old Jordan Austin for selling water outside her home in San Francisco.

And just recently, a white woman apologized for calling the police on a Black man for birdwatching in New York’s Central Park.

The lyrics to Marvin Gaye’s “Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler)” are almost fifty years old, but the same tune Marvin sang about in 1971 is still playing in heavy rotation for Black people in 2020. The chorus: “Make me want to holler and throw up both my hands. Yeah, it makes me want to holler and throw up both my hands.”

It does make us want to throw up our hands and ask what is safe for us to do these days? We cannot go jogging in the neighborhood or even relax in our own home. Young Black boys cannot play with toys or eat candy because it puts the lives of others who are carrying weapons in danger. Nothing says my life is in danger more than seeing someone with a box of Skittles.

Black entrepreneurs cannot hold a meeting in a coffee shop or sell water in their yard because it looks suspicious. That is the world we live in. A brother cannot even look at the birds while enjoying a breath of fresh air.

Breathing while Black is proving to be more dangerous than COVID-19!

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