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George Floyd couldn't breathe. We protest because now all of Black America can't either.

COVID-19 is ravaging us, and yet systemic racism has been tightening its grip on all of our throats for years.
Rev. Al Sharpton during a protest for George Floyd in the Staten Island, N.Y., on May 30, 2020.Eduardo Munoz / Reuters

George Floyd should have been alive today. George Floyd would have been alive today if his humanity was recognized, valued and respected. George Floyd should have been protected by those who swore an oath to uphold the law and help the communities they serve. George Floyd is no longer with us because even in the middle of a global pandemic, police brutality has not ceased.

COVID-19 is ravaging us, making it difficult to breathe, and yet systemic racism has been tightening its grip on our throats for years. Racism is trauma, passed from generation to generation. Enough is enough.

Racism is trauma, passed from generation to generation. Enough is enough.

Six years ago, we were haunted by Eric Garner’s last words: “I can’t breathe.” Sadly, here we are again. Ironically, the official Hennepin County autopsy claimed there were "no physical findings that support a diagnosis of traumatic asphyxia or strangulation." And yet, Floyd could not breathe. We know it. Those who have viewed the video footage have literally watched and rewatched it happen.

Now, too, our families and loved ones are suffering — we, too literally cannot breathe — and it’s time for the oxygen masks to be released.

On Friday, Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman finally announced that the recently fired officer Derek Chauvin had been arrested and charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter. While this is a step in the right direction, it is not nearly enough. Each of the other officers who either directly contributed to Floyd’s death or stood around and did nothing to stop this horror or render him assistance must be charged as well. They are accomplices. They are bystanders. They are enablers.

We have yet to see what happens to these officers, as well as what transpires (or doesn’t) from any trial. We are a long, long journey from a conviction, and that road is paved with many challenges.

Earlier this week, I traveled to Minneapolis along with Eric Garner’s mother, Gwen Carr. We participated in a vigil to commemorate Floyd’s life and announced a call to action. On Saturday, she and I held a rally in Staten Island at the location where her son was killed by police in 2014. It took five years for the officer accused of placing Garner in a banned chokehold to even be fired. We cannot and will not allow the same injustice to continue.

Garner’s final words torment us till this day. We are now calling for a national day of solidarity with the family of George Floyd, which is now suffering from a similar tragedy. Maybe if there was accountability for Garner’s death, perhaps Chauvin and the others would have thought twice before they treated Floyd with such utter inhumanity.

There is understandable anger out there all across the nation. And it is so much bigger than Derek Chauvin. America’s history is the history of devalued black and brown lives, of justice delegitimized and denied. Yes, we have made progress through the decades, but we are far from achieving a society where we are all truly treated equally under the law — and respected by the law.

Just in a span of about a few weeks, we’ve covered the horrific deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor. That alone does something to your psyche, to your sense of safety at a time when there is so much uncertainty and instability all around us.

Many are now pointing the finger at protesters and attempting to change the conversation. Nobody wants stores burned or looted, but the focus must remain on the violence inflicted upon Floyd and so many others in our community for years. You cannot tell people to just shut up and suffer. Some just want quiet — we want justice.

Until we reach that point, we will loudly chant in honor of our fallen brothers and sisters. We (still) can’t breathe.