The Question is: Why?

by Ahmad Graves-El

I write this with a heavy heart, an aching soul, and with tears welling up in my eyes.

The vivid imagery of a man—known to his friends and family as the gentle giant; handcuffed, defenseless, quietly and respectfully telling a Minneapolis police officer, “I can’t breathe” and “you’re killing me” as that officer sworn to protect and serve all of that city’s citizens, inhumanly and nonchalantly grinds his knee into the gentle giant’s neck for nearly 10 minutes—is inescapable in my mind.

As bystanders watched and pleaded with the officer to release his knee off of that human being’s neck, the officer looked straight into a woman’s camera phone while she was recording the entire incident and displayed not one ounce of sympathy or compassion on his cold, expressionless face.

The gentle giant, clearly in agonizing pain, cried out “Momma” in hopes his deceased mother would somehow manifest into this world to come and save him; his life slowly slipping away as three other officers, sworn to protect and serve all citizens, stood by and watched.

The human being, who had the police called on him for allegedly passing a counterfeit $20 bill at a nearby store, laid motionless on a concrete street in Minneapolis as the officer, with his left hand in his left pocket continues to dig his knee into that man’s neck.

The bystanders screamed in anger and disbelief at the officers and implored them to “Check that man’s pulse” as they noticed he had not moved for nearly three minutes.

The officer finally, casually, released his death grip from the man’s neck. EMTs arrive, check his pulse, then haphazardly pick his limp body up and place him in the back of an ambulance.

George Floyd was pronounced dead a short time later.

The image of that insidiously barbaric and callous act that took place on Monday, May 25, will be embedded in my brain for a very long time.

Sadly, for people of color in the United States of America, this is a scene that has taken place over, and over, and over again.

LaQuan McDonald. Trayvon Martin. Botham Jean. In 2018, Jean was eating ice cream in his own apartment when a Dallas police officer shot and killed him. Allegedly, she thought he was in her apartment when she fired on him. She went to the wrong apartment.

Tamir Rice, Sandra Bland, Michael Brown, Eric Garner. In 2014, Garner was placed in an illegal chokehold by an officer in New York and died after repeatedly telling the officers on the scene, “I can’t breathe.” His death was ruled a homicide by the New York medical examiner’s office. His “crime”—selling looseys. A loosey is a single cigarette taken out of a cigarette box, which some people sell for 25 cents or 50 cents.

Philando Castile, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery. In February of this year, Arbery, taking a jog, was chased, bumrushed and murdered by three men who claimed he fit the description of a burglar. On this particular jog, Arbery had stopped to take a look inside a house that was partially constructed. Something that I, as a longtime runner, have done numerous times. It’s cool to admire the structure and foundation of a building before it’s built and try to imagine what it may look like upon completion.

The list goes on, and on, and on.

The question is: Why?

Year after year, decade after decade, century after century.

Another question that has befuddled me for most of my life: If all men are created equal, why are only some men treated as equal? Maybe the answer can be found in the Doctrine of Discovery.

Genocide, murders, lynching. The horrific and inhumane experience George Floyd went through has happened to innumerable scores of men and women of color for the last 500 years.

Even me. I’ll share my story in next week’s issue.

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