“I can’t breathe.”
The last words of George Floyd are really beyond comprehension for most of us. The sheer horror of struggling to breathe not because of an awful illness but because of the actions of another human being. The very thought is devastating, the reality is so much worse.
The video of a police officer kneeling on the neck of someone they have detained, for over nine minutes, rightly shocked the world last year. This horrendous action has forced the world to recognise the fact that racism is still far too prevalent, that people lose their lives and their livelihoods daily because of it and that some people genuinely don’t believe that all lives matter, that black lives matter.
George Floyd’s heinous murder permanently changed the world. It reinvigorated a demand for equality, it made the current civil rights movement a global phenomenon and it reminded us all of why our own voices become so much more powerful when they are one of many. George Floyd’s murder demanded change from every one of us, at an institutional level, at a human level. Change that we must strive together to deliver.
George Floyd’s murder serves as a constant reminder of the ultimate right of free expression, of free speech. The right to speak is only feasible if you have the right to breathe. Free expression is more than just your right to media freedom and to say and do what you want within the law. It’s also the safety and security to walk on the streets you live in, to buy the food you want to and to say what you want to without fear or favour. That is free expression. That’s what Index seeks to defend, that’s why we care and it’s why we exist. Within an American context it is the ultimate civil right – the right to live and be free.
But this week was about more than civil rights, more than the right to protest, more than the fight against racism. It was about justice and it was about George Floyd’s family and friends.
I, like many of you, waited anxiously for the verdict of Derek Chauvin’s trial on Tuesday. Glued once again to CNN praying for the right result. Hoping that justice would be done, and that George Floyd’s family could finally have a little peace. It was with relief that I watched the three guilty verdicts, relief for George Floyd’s family, relief for his friends, relief for the communities who have been directly affected by his murder and relief that we can now continue to fight for positive change in our communities rather than campaign against yet another injustice.
There is a Jewish saying on bereavement – may his memory be a blessing. It is now for all of us to make sure that George Floyd’s memory is a blessing and a catalyst for positive change. Using our rights to free speech in his memory.