It’s 2015 and we still can’t breathe

Entering the new year, some are probably eager to be able to put the events of 2014 behind them and stop dealing with the fallout caused by the countless shootings of unarmed black men, but only ignorance would allow for the assumption that the conversation about racial injustice is anywhere close to being over.

Names like Eric Garner, John Crawford III, Michael Brown, Ezell Ford and Tamir Rice ruled the headlines in 2014: the result of numerous mishandled cases that led to the deaths of black men at the hands of a police officer.

In the cases of Crawford and Rice (who were both holding toy weapons), some form of video footage was released and used to help clear up the events of the shootings: all of which showed the hasty reactions of police responders, shooting 12 year old Rice within two seconds of arriving on the scene and shooting 22 year old father Crawford in a Walmart without waiting for him to drop his “weapon.”

However, neither of these events were greeted with as much outrage and shock as the case of 43 year old black father to six, Eric Garner.  Although Garner was killed in July of 2014, his death has only recently garnered national media attention in the past two months following a grand jury decision to not indict New York Police Department officer Daniel Pantaleo. A 350 lbs, 6’3” man described by his neighbors and friends as “congenial and generous” and “a neighborhood peacemaker”, Garner was standing outside a beauty supply store on Bay Street in Staten Island, New York when he was approached by plainclothes officer, Justin Damico.

"I Can't Breathe" has become a staple chant in demonstrations protesting the death of Eric Garner, along with phrases inspired by Michael Brown's death like "Hands up, don't shoot" and "No justice, no peace." The numerous deaths of unarmed black men in 2014 have sparked a national dialogue about racial inequality and racial injustice.  Photo by Natalie Herson.
“I Can’t Breathe” has become a staple chant in demonstrations protesting the death of Eric Garner, along with phrases inspired by the events in Ferguson, Missouri like “Hands up, don’t shoot” and “No justice, no peace.” The numerous deaths of unarmed black men in 2014 have sparked a national dialogue about racial inequality and racial injustice. Photo by Natalie Herson.

Garner was originally approached after breaking up a fight, at which point Damico recognized him as the man NYPD suspected of selling “loose cigarettes” or cigarettes removed from a pack to be sold without tax.  Damico and Pantaleo called for backup although Garner did not attempt to resist or walk away from the officers.

The entire incident was caught on video from a bystander’s cell phone, making it clear that Garner posed no threat or even inconvenience to bystanders or the police.  In the video, Garner can be heard telling the officers he’s “tired of it. It stops today” but never attempts to leave the storefront or approach the officers.  Garner repeatedly tells the police “I’m minding my business, officer… Please just leave me alone.”

After several minutes of confrontation, Damico reached out towards Garner at which point Garner replied “please don’t touch me.” Upon this, a swarm of officers ascended onto him within seconds, including another plainclothes officer, Pantaleo.  Pantaleo, the first to reach Garner, proceeded to use a chokehold that is banned by the NYPD.  The officer pulled Garner to the ground, rolling with him on the sidewalk while still holding him in a chokehold as a group of five officers piled onto the scene and surrounded the two. The video indicates that the chokehold lasted around 20 seconds, but even after Pantaleo let go of Garner’s neck, he continued to slam his head onto the sidewalk and into the wall of the store behind them.

The video is upsetting and hard to watch for most, as Garner gasps out 11 times “I can’t breathe” before passing out.  In the minutes following, police prevented EMTs from performing CPR on Garner on the grounds that he was simply unconscious but still breathing on his own.

Garner died less than an hour later in a death that the coroner ruled a homicide by neck compression and “the compression of his chest and prone positioning during physical restraint by police”, according to the medical examiner’s report.

Three words from the incident have become the catchphrase of an entire movement, inspiring the hashtag #ICan’tBreathe.  The chant has joined the ranks with phrases inspired by the events in Ferguson, including “Hands up, don’t shoot” and “No justice, no peace.”

The multitude of deaths of unarmed black men and the acquittals of most of the officers involved have sparked a national and worldwide dialogue about race: racial stereotypes, race-related privilege and justice for those who were treated unfairly on the basis of race.  Not only have there been protests on the majority of college campuses in the US as well as multiple celebrities and prominent sports figures standing up for justice, groups experiencing oppression around the world have stood in solidarity with those affected by the deaths of Eric Garner and Michael Brown: two of the most high profile deaths in 2014, although certainly not the only examples.

Across the country, countless celebrities have taken their outrage to social media like Twitter and Instagram, but a few have taken it a step farther.  Professional basketball players Lebron James, Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant, Deron Williams and Derrick Rose joined St. Louis Rams players Davin Joseph, Kenny Britt and other NFL players including Johnson Bademosi, Melvin Ingram and Reggie Bush in showing their support by wearing shirts and cleats covered in the names of the victims and the three words “I can’t breathe.”  The cast of the movie Selma wore “I can’t breathe” shirts to the New York premiere of their movie and model Chrissy Teigen and her husband, musician John Legend paid for food trucks to pass out free food to protesters unable or unwilling to leave the city during a series of demonstrations in NYC.

Although the main outburst of protests occurred from August to December, following the death of Michael Brown in August and the acquittal of police officers involved in both the Brown and Garner cases, these racial issues are far from over entering the new year.

What started as isolated protests over the deaths of Brown and Garner has grown into a full scale debate about policing issues in the United States.  As the list of unarmed black men killed in 2014 grew, so did the intensity and frequency of demonstrations across the nation and the world.  The protests have all but died out as New Year’s Day saw marches in Boston, New York City and Los Angeles and an attempted sit-in at the police headquarters in St. Louis.

Although the conversation about police brutality and malpractice and racial inequality is one that needs to be continued in 2015 in order to evoke change in law enforcement procedure and policy in the United States, here’s to hoping that the killing of unarmed victims by the police is an injustice of the past, best left behind in 2014 to never happen again.

by Mili Renuart


This week’s Devil Talk question: “Is Racism Still Alive at Gull Lake High School?” 

Click and listen to student audios.

Freshman Keyshawn Wilson“I have not experienced it to my face but others have.”

Sophomore Grace Clancy 

“Everyone’s okay with each other, but there is still segregation.”

Junior Emilio Correa 

“Yes, because a student made a rap that was really racist. 

Senior Claire Haase 

“Yes, there is racism for sure because a kid made a song called “White Supremacy.”

Mili Renuart

Mili Renuart

My name is Emiliana (Mili) Renuart and I am currently a senior at Gull Lake.  I am the Editor-in-Chief of the Reflection and also write in every news category, focusing mainly on feature and opinion articles.  I have won multiple awards at MIPA 2014 and 2015, including a first place award for an on-site feature article and second place for an on-site opinion article.  In my free time, I enjoy reading, writing and creating art.

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