Beyond eight minutes and forty-six seconds

Beyond eight minutes and forty-six seconds

Eight minutes and forty-six seconds.

I tried to take my breath, hoping to feel his own, but I had to gasp for more twelve times at least—during those eight minutes and forty-six seconds.

“I can’t breathe”. George Floyd lost his life whilst begging his murderer to stop, with his face squashed to a cold Minneapolis street. He lost his life with his voice knotted at his throat.

“Don’t kill me,” he pleaded, possibly conscious that those three words would have been his last.

On 25 May, the whole world bore witness to his horrible death at the hands of Minneapolis Police Department. Derek Chauvin – the son of a corrupted police force resulting from generations of systemic racism – kept his knee on the right side of Floyd’s neck for eight minutes and forty-six seconds; two minutes and fifty-three seconds of this after Floyd was already non-responsive.

His murder has been compared to the 2014 death of Eric Garner. Like Floyd, Garner was also an unarmed African-American man who repeated “I can’t breathe” after being placed in a chokehold by a New York police officer during an arrest in Staten Island.

A few days ago an official autopsy found no indication that Floyd died of strangulation or traumatic asphyxia, rather that he likely died of the “combined effects of being restrained; underlying health conditions, including coronary artery disease and hypertensive heart disease; and intoxicantsin his system”.

Floyd’s family engaged Michael Baden, a pathologist who had conducted a second autopsy on Eric Garner, to perform an independent examination.

The Declaration of Independence states that all men are created equal; however, the “racial contract” by Charles W. Mills limits this to white men with property. The law says murder is illegal; the racial contract says it’s fine for white people to chase and murder black people if they have decided that those black people intimidate them.

Racism is at the core of the “social contract”, Mills argued, rather than just being a characteristic of imperfect men. It is a tacit—yet sometimes explicit—agreement among members of the western world to promote and maintain the ideal of white supremacy.

Donald Trump’s 2016 election campaign, with its vows to enforce state violence against Mexican immigrants, Muslims, and black Americans, was built on a promise to enforce terms of the racial contract that Barack Obama had ostensibly ignored, or even ‘violated’ by his presence. Trump’s administration, in carrying out a discriminatory agenda that propagates cruelty, war crimes, and the entrenchment of white political power, represents a revitalized commitment to racism.

The flames in Minneapolis, and the desperate protests by millions of people who have been broken by a sick system, are not independent; they are predictable and have been exacerbated by the Trump Administration since they first began.

On Friday, Trump tweeted that the protesters in Minneapolis were thugs: “When the looting starts,” he warned, “the shooting starts.” The antithesis of wisdom—a comment so detrimental to the public well-being that Twitter, in an unprecedented move, labelled Trump’s tweet “a violation of company policy against glorifying violence.”

What is happening today in cities across the United States is a crescendo of anger and resentment, and even at this time Trump has demonstrated severe neglect. Leaders cannot predict the future, but they should at the very least be conscious of the past.

“This will haunt you for the rest of your life”, a voice in the video calls out to Chauvin whose knee was still pressed to the back of Floyd’s neck. For eight minutes and forty-six seconds. And today, through burning flames and the rubble of failed politics, we can not only feel the indignation of those hundreds of thousands protesting for change, but also the spirit of Jordan Davis, who will be able to listen to his music; of Walter Ascott, who will be able to go jogging; of Sandra Bland, who will be sent on her way with only a traffic ticket; of Keith Scott, who will be able to peacefully read a book; of Botham Jean, who will be able to relax in his own home; of Atatiana Jefferson, who will be able to look out of the window to observe the sky; of Sean Bell, who will be able to hold a hair brush; of Oscar Grant, who will be able to celebrate New Year’s Eve; and also of George Floyd, who will live beyond those cursed eight minutes and six-forty seconds.