'I want to scream': WaPo columnist pens emotional reaction to George Floyd's killing
A long list of liberals and progressives, from the Rev. Al Sharpton to Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson, have vehemently condemned the violence and civil unrest that Minneapolis has suffered following the death of George Floyd — an African-American man who, in a horrifying video, can be seen telling four police officers, “I can’t breathe” while handcuffed and pinned to the ground. But they have also stressed that the anger surrounding Floyd’s death is perfectly justified and encouraged peaceful, nonviolent protests. And Robinson expresses some of that anger in his May 28 column, asserting that the type of abuse suffered by Floyd in Minneapolis and Ahmaud Arbery has to stop.
In Georgia, Arbery (also African-American) was out jogging when he was fatally shot in what has been widely condemned as a vigilante-style lynching.
“I condemn riots, destruction, property theft and all manner of senseless violence, but I understand the feeling that animates these spasms,” Robinson asserts. “When I watch the video of officer Derek Chauvin kneeling on Floyd’s neck, choking the life out of him and ignoring his cries of distress, I want to throw something. When I see the video of Gregory and Travis McMichael accosting and shooting Arbery, I want to throw something else. I can’t help but think of my own two sons and how, for either of them, a routine encounter with police — or a run-in with self-appointed sheriffs — could be fatal. I want to scream.”
Robinson, who is African-American, notes that although he enjoys a “comfortable” middle class lifestyle, racism is a major source of frustration for him — and he wonders how much worse that frustration would be if, instead of black and middle class, he were black and poor.
“I feel this way even though I have status in this society, an income that allows me to live comfortably, and a megaphone — in the form of this column and my television appearances — with which to make my complaints and opinions heard,” Robinson writes. “I wonder how I’d feel if I lacked these things, if I were powerless and voiceless. I wonder where my frustration and rage would find their outlet.”
Robinson makes a point that many others have been making following Floyd’s death: like Arbery and the late New York City resident Eric Garner — who also used the words “I can’t breathe” when he was arrested — Floyd was black and unarmed. Garner died after being arrested for selling loose cigarettes.
“Floyd’s last words of anguish — ‘I can’t breathe’ — were the same as those of Eric Garner, who in 2014, was approached by New York policemen for standing on a Staten Island sidewalk, selling loose cigarettes,” Robinson explains. “Officer Daniel Pantaleo put Garner in a chokehold and killed him. Pantaleo was never charged with a crime. He wasn’t fired until last August, and he is suing the department, arguing that his termination was ‘arbitrary and capricious’…. Not only do these unwarranted killings of black men keep happening. They also keep going unpunished.”
The unrest in Minneapolis comes 55 years after the Watts Riots of 1965 and 28 years after the Los Angeles Riots, which followed the acquittal of officers involved in the brutal beating of black motorist Rodney King.
“Do you want to prevent the kind of rioting, looting and arson we saw in Minneapolis on Wednesday night?,” Robinson writes. “Then stop police officers and racist vigilantes from killing black men, like George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery. Stop treating African Americans like human trash and start treating us like citizens.”
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