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Breathe George Floyd: How His Life and Death Helped Indian Americans See Black America

Breathe George Floyd: How His Life and Death Helped Indian Americans See Black America

  • We know that the Minneapolis verdict was accountability, not justice — that will hppen when no more Black men and women die at the hands of police in America.

We all can breathe again. Say what you will, the verdict today has taken a year of anguish, rage, tears, sadness, and countless decades in between, to make America the land of possibilities and ‘Justice for All’ once again. It took 12 jurors only 10 hours of deliberations to give a guilty verdict on all three counts to former Minneapolis police officer Derrick Chauvin in the death of George Floyd. With this one verdict, America has come of age – where Black Lives Matter is not just a slogan but an essential gash on its very fabric of civil society that needs fixing.

Sentencing will happen in 8 weeks — Chauvin faces up to 40 years in prison for second-degree murder, up to 25 years for third-degree murder and up to 10 years for second-degree manslaughter. George Floyd’s final plea to live – “I can’t breathe” died in May 2020 after Chauvin placed his knee on Floyd’s neck while he pleaded, “I can’t breathe.” Those three words became a rallying cry for millions of people around the world that face injustice and racial abuse – especially American black men and women at the hands of police.

It took nearly a year, millions of protests around the world and countless year-round vigils and Black Lives Matter activism on the streets and corners to come to this day. Today in Minneapolis, George Floyd lives large, even after his death, in the people on the streets openly crying, in shock, shaken and hugging each other. This time it’s with joy – for the fact that Black Lives Do Matter and that a black man’s murder in a civil society does get justice. 

For me, personally, Floyd’s death was in a way an eye-opener for my own community’s tone-deafness when it came to race relations and particularly when it came to “seeing” Black America. Since then, much has changed and among it is the realization from my fellow desis that as American citizens we as a community need to do more, say more, and commit to a more just society. And not stay cocooned in our “Model Minority” status given to us by a very White America that feeds this systemic racism and lets it stagnate and rot for decades and years.

Indian Americans really don’t “see” Black America except via TV, music, sports and other outlets that are kosher — that don’t make us uncomfortable. 

A friend who had read one of my earlier blogs right after Floyd’s death came to visit me and told me she actually thought about this – how us Indian Americans really don’t “see” Black America except via TV, music, sports and other outlets that are kosher — that don’t make us uncomfortable. Like the rest of the White America, we love to unsee what makes us all perpetuate racism at every levels of our society. Since then, countless friends have gone out of their way to learn more, help more and to just acknowledge this status quo and what they can do to break it. It is refreshing and frightening – all at the same time because it should not have happened to us so late, coming as we all do from a country seeped in color, caste, status and what not.

I was in my office when we got word that verdict was to be announced around 4:00pm. We all gathered around our TVs and waited and heard those three words – Guilty, Guilty, Guilty. Some visibly tense, a few crying but all relieved that the city we love will be quiet tonight – instead of angry protests, the streets will be buzzing with joy and celebration – for justice and for hope that America’s ugly underbelly of racism will be challenged and maybe change for the better. 

Later in the evening the George Floyd Square, the place where he was murdered and which has become some sort of a pilgrimage with a giant black clenched fist statue in the middle, was packed with people – old and young, adults with children, Black and White, men and women – hugging each other, chanting “Say His Name”, crying – but all celebrating with cheers and smiles at a verdict many thought they would never live to see come true. 

By evening, the George Floyd Square was strewn with flowers, candles, and other offerings and amidst it all were the photographs of other Black men and women for whom either justice was not served or who were still waiting for justice. The young 20-year-old Daunte Wright smiles shyly from a portrait placed there — another Minnesotan shot dead by a police officer Kim Potter who mistook her Glock to be her taser gun – mere weeks back. Trevor Martin, Breonna Taylor – the list is too exhaustive to be included here but who were not forgotten today. 

Attorney Ben Crump and George Floyd’s family released a statement following the conviction of Derek Chauvin, “Painfully earned justice has arrived for George Floyd’s family and the community here in Minneapolis, but today’s verdict goes far beyond this city and has significant implications for the country and even the world. Justice for Black America is justice for all of America. This case is a turning point in American history for accountability of law enforcement and sends a clear message we hope is heard clearly in every city and every state.”

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Indeed, Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison said after the verdict that today was about accountability. Justice would be served when each one of us decides that enough is enough and stares down the systemic racism that leads to Black deaths on the streets and in their own residences by the police. President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris as well as former President Barak Obama released statements and spoke to the country. The first Black-Indian Vice President also urged lawmakers to pass the George Floyd bill aimed at reforming policing in the U.S. “This bill is part of George Floyd’s legacy. This work is long overdue,” she said in a statement.

Among prominent personalities waiting for the verdict was the Rev. Jesse Jackson and the fiery New York native and civil rights activist Al Sharpton. When the verdict came a loud cry or cheer rose from the crowds outside the Hennepin County courthouse. And with it the tension that had gripped the city for over a year seemed to melt away. So long as the killing of Black men and women continues, today will be a celebration of accountability of a Black life lost at the hands of police brutality. It will not be a celebration of justice served. That will come when the rest of the three guilty verdicts are handed down in Floyd’s death and when police stop applying one policing for White America and another for Black America.

Breathe Now George Floyd and rest in peace – You may yet be that catalyst of change that America needs right now.

Kuhu Singh lives in Eden Prairie, Minn., a suburb of the Twin Cities. Bidding adieu to journalism a decade ago, she nonetheless loves to write and express her very strong opinions on social media and blogs and sometimes in a few Indian publications. She is a Senior Digital Marketing Manager for a broadcast retail company. Race relations, diversity, social issues fascinate and roil her into action. She volunteers her time with certain political organizations and community organizations.

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