George Floyd's pleas are etched into my brain: "Please! Please!" and "I can't breathe." The words of yet another unarmed black man killed by the police, an entity that is supposed to protect and serve.
How did it start: A heinous crime? A dangerous confrontation? No. A report of a $20 counterfeit bill that somehow ended with George Floyd handcuffed on the ground while Derek Chauvin, a then-Minneapolis police officer, knelt on his neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds. What the video footage shows is shocking; somehow, none of the officers at the scene seemed to find any value in George Floyd's life. Somehow, they did not care when he, immobilised on the ground, calls out for his 'Momma!' – the words of a dying man in anguish. Somehow, after Floyd was completely unresponsive, the other three officers at the scene had no problem with Chauvin kneeling on his neck for another 2 minutes and 53 seconds.
Was it callousness? Indifference? Unconscious bias? Pure racism? I can't say I know. Yet what is clear is that African Americans have consistently been the victims of unforgivable police brutality and abuse of power. After all, a 2019 study from the Proceedings of the National Academies of Sciences shows that black men and women face a significantly higher risk of death by police in the United States than the white population.
People are understandably angry; people don't want to live in a world where police can respond with unbridled and unforgivable violence. That's why there are protests across the US, because Black lives matter. That's not a political statement; it shouldn't be a controversial one either.
It's common decency. It's humanity.
Yet, somehow, there has to be protests to prove the point. How many times can police kill innocent African Americans? When is it enough? I'm sure many people hoped for positive change after Eric Garner or Michael Brown or the countless other murders. But it hasn't happened. History seems to give us a horrifying pattern: a black man murdered by white police officers, followed by protests and then a quick return to the status quo.
We can't let happen. We all have a responsibility to stand up against injustice. I'm not black. I’m not American. But I know what brutality looks like. I know what a blatant disregard for the value of human life looks like. I commend the peaceful protestors; I commend the people holding vigils; I commend the people pointing out the racism and militarism prevalent in many police forces across the US.
We can turn this horrific event into an impetus for positive change. We can stand up and demand that there will be no return to the status quo; that the racism which is rife in the justice system will not be accepted anymore; that police have to be held accountable for their actions; that systematic change has to happen.
There are some good signs already. Derek Chauvin has been charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. Hennepin County Prosecutor Mike Freeman has said that he "anticipates charges" against Thomas Lane, Tou Thao and J. Alexander Kueng, the other officers involved in Floyd's death.
What can't be done, however, is letting the damage of the violent protests outweigh the message that change has to take place. I understand the anger. How many times can innocent black men be killed before people say that peaceful protests don't work? What do you expect protestors to do in response to police firing rubber bullets and tear gas or President Trump inflaming racial tensions with horrific tweets such as "when the looting starts, the shooting starts"? Again, I don't know. After all, as the protestors have been chanting "No justice, no peace."
Nevertheless, I think this can be a turning point, where justice can bring peace. We can stand up against the bigotry that is rife but try to do it peacefully. Perhaps Barack Obama said it best: "it falls on all of us, regardless of our race or station — including the majority of men and women in law enforcement who take pride in doing their tough job the right way, every day — to work together to create a 'new normal' in which the legacy of bigotry and unequal treatment no longer infects our institutions or our hearts."
We just need to hold on to the memory of the modern-day lynching of George Floyd and promise ourselves that we will not tolerate prejudice anymore – that we will never go back to that status quo.
This letter is written by Oisín-Tomás Ó Raghallaigh, a student journalist from Ireland.
This letter to the editor has been lightly edited for style and clarity.
Correction: A previous version of this letter misstated the country where Oisín-Tomás Ó Raghallaigh is from.