“I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe.” Those were Eric Garner’s last words. He repeated them at least 11 times, clearly audible to the camera that recorded it all, as one cop sat on his chest and another suffocated him in choke-hold. And then he stopped moving. For six minutes they just left him lying there on the sidewalk — they didn’t do a goddamn thing to save his life. The coroner ruled it a homicide; another black man murdered by a white cop. Yet a white-majority grand jury chose not to indict him. Now we can’t breathe.
We can’t breathe with this injustice in the air. We can’t breathe knowing that in America a black man is killed by police every 28 hours — and the cop usually gets away with impunity. We can’t breathe witnessing how these pigs maim, terrorize and murder people of color. How they stifle the peaceful protests in response. How they arrive in tanks, dressed up like Robocops, carrying solid wooden batons and fully automatic rifles, looking for any possible excuse to shoot or beat the shit out of people they’re supposed to “serve and protect.”
We can’t breathe in this toxic atmosphere of state brutality.
We can’t breathe in this travesty of justice, this sham of a democracy.
How can we breathe knowing that, just two bloody weeks ago, the exact same thing happened with the white cop who shot Mike Brown in Ferguson?
How can we breathe knowing that, just a day after Garner’s murderer got away scot-free, another unarmed black man was shot by a white cop in Arizona?
How can we breathe knowing that the bastards who shot a 12-year-old black boy playing with a toy gun are not even suspected of any wrongdoing?
How can we breathe knowing that the only person indicted in Eric Garner’s murder was the man who recorded it on video?!
How can we breathe through the seething rage, the disbelief — the disgust?
We just can’t fucking breathe.
And we’re not alone.
It’s the same shit everywhere.
In Mexico, the cops and the gangs are one. Still no sign of the 43 missing students of the Escuela Normal Rural in Ayotzinapa — but everyone knows what happened. The mayor had the cops turn the students over to the gangs, who let 15 of them suffocate to death in a truck, then executed the others and incinerated their remains in a giant fire that burnt all night. Apparently some of the students were still alive when they were thrown into the flames. The whole political system is in on it — everyone knows. And so in Mexico, they can’t breathe.
In Greece, the cops and the fascists are one. Still no resolution to the 25 day hunger strike of the anarchist prisoner Nikos Romanos. Everyone knows what happened. Nikos and his comrades robbed a bank. They told the bank employees they had nothing to fear; their enemy was the state. But the cops got to them before they could escape. They were arrested and subjected to torture, their faces so badly bruised the cops had to overtly photoshop the mugshots released to the press. Oh, and today it was exactly six years ago that a cop shot Nikos’ best friend Alexis through the heart — in cold blood — right in front of his eyes.
Now Nikos is on hunger strike because the state refused to grant him his constitutional right to attend university classes outside of prison. He stopped eating, he declared, to gain “a breath of freedom.” But instead of granting him a gasp of air, the state is simply letting him starve to death. “Even if God himself came down from the skies,” the Justice Minister declared, “I would not grant him a leave.” Now doctors warn that Nikos is in critical condition and could succumb to organ failure anytime. His parents fear that their son will end up a martyr. But the cops simply respond to solidarity protests with more teargas. And so in Greece, like in Mexico and the US, they can’t breathe.
I could go on. I could talk about the coldblooded execution of a Palestinian man by Israeli police last month. I could talk about the police murder of the environmental activist Rémi Fraisse in France. I could talk about police violence against Occupy protesters in Hong Kong. I could talk about Brazilian police killing six people a day. I could talk about the police impunity following the Marikana massacre in South Africa. I could talk about LAPD officers shooting a man in the head today — ten fucking times! — amid a crowd of tourists on Hollywood Boulevard. I could talk about the Turkish cops who killed a Kurdish youth in a protest today. I could talk about the epidemic of police violence and harassment against transgender people of color. I could go on and on and on.
But there is no point to write and talk and analyze and debate. Some things are so basic, so elementary, so simple and straightforward that they simply cannot stand: not in the US, not in Mexico, not in Greece, not in Palestine, not in France, not in Hong Kong, not in Brazil, not in South Africa, not in Kurdistan, nowhere. Because like this we cannot breathe — and in the universal sense of suffocation we feel at the hands of the capitalist state and its forces of order, we are one. Some of us are greatly privileged, to be sure, but our enemy is one and the same. From New York to Greece, we must revolt against the police. As the great Franz Fanon so astutely put it, “when we revolt it’s not for a particular culture. We revolt simply because, for many reasons, we can no longer breathe.”