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  • Writer's pictureJoia

Today's rhaps is on ... "I can't breathe"

Marlene Dumas, Mamma Roma, 2012

In a beloved song for me Ewa Demarczyk sings "Lecz widać można żyć bez powietrza"you see one can live without air.

But not for eight minutes and forty-six seconds.

George Floyd was tortured to death by the violent and sadistic police force responding to arrest a customer with a bad twenty dollar bill. The air in his windpipe was sucked out of his lungs by the weight of a blue knee on his neck. It pressed the last gasp of humanity out of him and continued long after his final urine evacuated on the street and his oxygen-deprived brain gave up the ghost.

He did not go far. Nor does he rest in peace. Not yet. Such ghosts, dead by violence, linger close by for a long time, haunting us until we make things right.

All this occurred in front of Cup Foods, across the street from the gas station where I stopped many times on my way home from the Twin Cities Women's Choir rehearsals at Calvary Lutheran Church, up one block at 39th and Chicago in South Minneapolis.

Breathing is not overrated. I know, because I don't do it very well. I trained myself early to breathe quiet and shallow, hiding in the dark. Not a useful skill later in life. Discovering that robust diaphragm-inhalation would sustain a singing voice was a life saver, especially as it accompanied my mathematical love affair with musical notation.

The anguish of losing control over even minimal breath is horrific. That someone would systematically snuff it out, and on film—beyond abhorrent. Yet precisely because this obscenity traveled instantaneously 'round the globe, we poured into the streets from Houston to Paris, from London to L.A.

I can’t breathe.

Hands up don’t shoot.

The cowardly dictators will send their armies but we will march on. The miserable despots will pose for deadly selfies with their generals but we will march on. We will march until the soldiers put carnations in their bayonets and march with us, as they did in Portugal’s Revolução dos Cravos. We will march until the injustice of supremacy is suffocated instead, until no one's wings are clipped and all may soar free.

George Floyd did not go far. Nor does he rest in peace. Not yet. Ghosts dead by violence linger near us for a long time.

Until we make things right.

Every step, every breath, is now in your honor George.

2 JUNE 2020

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