By Jimmy Pierre
Teacher and community worker in Kenscoff, Haiti
George Floyd’s famous last words “I can’t breathe” were a desperate shout for any marginalized person who is being choked to death physically, spiritually, intellectually, professionally, economically, socially, culturally, or morally by any cruel establishment anywhere.
Floyd is gone and, rightfully so, people are asking to punish the four police officers who caused this act of cruelty. But what must be remembered is that the officers’ behavior is symbolic of the vast majority of cruelties going on every day in this world. The four uncaring police officers are simply representative of a system of nastiness and oppression that so many can now penetrate and document with cellphones and cameras. What happened with Floyd is one scene out of a million that happens throughout the world daily.
What happened with Floyd can be compared to a girl with no medical skill but who has a breast drainage caused by cancer. Most likely, her first temptation is to concentrate on the drainage. But, a doctor herself will put all the focus on the cancer.
Society, as a victim of the system of nastiness, should be like the doctor. We shouldn’t spend all our energy in addressing the drainage. That alone is not going to solve the problem. And, the four police officers are the drainage.
But here’s the cancer. It is the institutional, structural oppression that chokes the life out of people. Most frequently the oppression is racialized. The 10 richest countries in the world are white countries while the poorest are black countries. Everywhere you go, black communities are associated with poverty and whites with wealth. To find a cure, here is what must be recognized:
• The knees of imperialistic countries are on the neck of many other little countries.
• The knees of huge medical labs are on the neck of many innocent people, using them for new medical experiments.
• The knees of big food industry are on the neck of so many innocent people, selling them junk food that causes all types of sicknesses.
• The knees of a white God are on the neck of black people, most of the time demonizing them for associating with their indigenous faiths.
• The knees of some black folks are on the neck of other black folks because of social status.
• The knees of some white folks on the neck of other white folks less privileged than them.
Floyd’s death is more than racial. If it were only racial, we would never have black people’s knees on the neck of other blacks or white people’s knees on the neck of other white people.
In the aftermath of the death of Floyd it is time to ask ourselves, as human beings, these questions:
• Whose neck is my wealth on right now?
• Whose neck is my social status on right now?
• Whose neck is my army on right now?
• Whose neck is my participation in certain professions or systems on right now?
• Whose neck is the wealth of my country is on right now?
• Whose neck is my religious belief on right now?
• Whose neck is my behavior is on right now?
• Who am I preventing from breathing RIGHT NOW?
Let’s not wait for another I CAN’T BREATHE moment to alert you to injustice because it might be too late to give an appropriate answer as it was too late to rescue George Floyd.
Let’s do these two things regularly at a personal level:
1) Every day, make sure no neck is under your knees.
2) Every day, ask how you can help someone desperate like Floyd to remove a heavy knee from their neck.
God, help us to remove our knees from the neck of your loving children and help us to help those who have a knee on their neck. Let’s remove them before it is too late.
Jimmy Pierre is a teacher and community worker in Kenscoff, Haiti