Why I can’t breathe when #icantbreathe stops trending

In July of 2014, Eric Garner died after being brought to the ground and held in a choke hold by a police officer. On the news, the fact that the choke hold is against department policy for the NYPD was a huge source of discussion. Sean Hannity even went so far as to explain that, as a martial arts specialist, he was sure it wasn’t a chokehold.

In response I say, who cares? Thanks to the random man video taping (who, incidentally, was later indicted for possessing a firearm, although the circumstances are suspicious enough that a conspiracy theory about police teaching a lesson to anyone who tries to get them in trouble seems reasonable), you can watch Eric Garner’s death on camera. No indictment. Why does it matter if that was an illegal move or not if it killed someone who was posing no actual threat to the officers or other civilians?

In the aftermath of the grand jury decision, I was unable to think about or talk about anything else, and so I just read and watched everything that I could find. As someone who lives in an isolated area, I took a lot of comfort in social media. Seeing my friends of all races posting #icantbreathe and links to protests and articles and blog posts made me feel like people were noticing and caring, like maybe something would change.

I was distressed the next day to find a Kim Kardashian hashtag had made its way into the top 3 on my Facebook tab of what was trending. One weekend of distress for the death of an unarmed black man, and then we all go back to our regularly scheduled bullshit, I thought. Or we move on to a new tragedy, the most recent being the school massacre in Peshawer, Pakistan.


Is it possible to hold the injustice of the American criminal “justice” system and systemic racism as a central priority while also being devastated by the events in Peshawer and worried about climate change and deportation of undocumented children and abortion rights and sexual assault on college campuses? How do we keep living our lives when there are so many tragedies and injustices permeating every aspect of our lives?

But lately, the question I keep asking myself is should we? Isn’t it possible that our capacity to put aside whatever is troubling in the world and to focus on the mundane details of preparing next day lunches and walking the dog what allows these systems of oppression to go unchecked?



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