“I can’t breathe.” We’ve heard that horrifying, desperate refrain before from an African American man gasping for life while in police custody. Six years ago, those words came from Eric Garner, a 43-year-old father of six apprehended for allegedly selling loose cigarettes on Staten Island, N.Y. The NYPD officer who put him in the lethal choke hold was fired but not prosecuted.
That same plea — “I can’t breathe” — was heard over and over again this week on the sickening video of a Minneapolis police officer pressing his knee to the neck of 46-year-old George Floyd, handcuffed and prone on the asphalt, for several minutes. The officer and three of his colleagues were quickly fired, and justifiably so. The prolonged torture of a subdued suspect was inhumane and utterly indefensible as a law enforcement technique. The refusal of fellow officers to intervene — to save a life — was beyond disturbing.
Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey called for a criminal prosecution. The U.S. Department of Justice said it would make its investigation of Floyd’s death a “top priority.” The feds also looked into Garner’s death, but Attorney General William Barr ultimately ordered the case to be dropped.