As millions of Americans sheltered in place in what many expected to be a sleepy Memorial Day — it became anything but after the killing of George Floyd by Minnesota cops went viral.
The latest killing of an unarmed Black citizen by police superseded the sacrifice of America’s war veterans in the minds of labor leaders and worker activists.
Ever since March, when the COVID-19 pandemic forced non-essential workers of every ethnic and racial background to quarantine at home —Americans of all stripes have been forced to bear witness to Black folks being chased, harassed or killed for either minor infractions or simply existing.
George Floyd allegedly used a fake $20 bill to buy groceries during a pandemic before he was killed.
The unjust treatment of Black people in America may have become more noticeable with the advent of social media — but the plague of racism has been prevalent in this country for centuries.
Floyd repeatedly said, “I can’t breathe!” as he was being choked. That plea echoed the final words of Eric Garner — another black man who police choked to death on Staten Island in 2014.
Garner was accused of selling loose cigarettes before he was killed.
When she heard Floyd’s plea, Garner’s mother, Gwen Carr, felt as though she had time traveled back to that terrible day six years ago, when her son was killed.
“Today, I was horrified to learn about the death of George Floyd, and to hear him utter the same dying declaration as my son Eric,” Carr said in a statement this week. “I offer my deepest condolences to the Floyd family, and I stand with them in their fight to get justice for George. It’s painful but true that Black lives continue to be destroyed by police officers in many communities across our country. They keep killing us, and it’s the same story again and again.”
Floyd’s killing came as millions of Americans were streaming viral videos of Ahmaud Arbery — an unarmed Georgia man who was shot to death in February by a father and son duo who reportedly thought he was responsible for a string of robberies in their neighborhood.
More videos attempting to justify Arbery’s unarmed killing backfired, however, and led to the arrests of Gregory McMichael and his son Travis McMichael on May 7. The arrests were later followed by the arrest of a neighbor named William Bryan on May 22. Bryan’s video depicted the father and son following Arbery in two vehicles and brandishing shotguns.
An essential EMT worker named Breonna Taylor, meanwhile, was killed in March while sleeping in her own bed in Kentucky. Police officers there erroneously mistook Taylor’s home for a drug house that was 10 miles away.
Hours before Floyd’s death, Christian Cooper, a bird watcher who was in the Ramble, a protected nature preserve in Central Park, had the cops called on him by Amy Cooper [no relation] because he told her to follow park rules and leash her dog.
Amy Cooper called in a false police report and accused the bird watcher of threatening her life.
“The killings of Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and the Central Park incident stand as stark examples of the harsh reality of the brutality and reckless disregard for Black life,” Kyle Bragg, president of 32BJ SEIU said in a statement this week. “Sadly, these events are not surprising but are especially painful as COVID-19 disproportionately rips through Black communities.”
The 32BJ leader added, “Unbridled racism in this country means that a Black person cannot jog, drive, stand in front of a store, or even bird watch without facing death or the threat of death. And recourse only comes when a video surfaces that creates enough anger to force the hand of the justice into action.”
The Minnesota Nurses Association also shared Bragg’s assessment, issuing their own statement saying, “Nurses care for all patients, regardless of their gender, race, religion or other statusWe expect the same from the police. Unfortunately, nurses continue to see the devastating effects of systematic racism and oppression targeting people of color in our communities. We demand justice for George Floyd and a stop to the unnecessary death of black men at the hands of those who should protect them.”
National Nurses United President Jean Ross called racism a “public health crisis.”
“Nurses know that racism is a public health crisis, whether in societal practices that have contributed to the disproportionate COVID-19 deaths of African Americans or the deaths of African Americas at the hands of police,” Ross said in a statement. “It is incumbent on all of us to work for systemic change.”