As I sit on the rocks on the beach gazing out at the ocean preparing to write in my journal, I consciously breathe in deeply; the air is familiar, the untamed briny scent mixed with the brilliant perfume of blooming flowers that only fills the air in the fertile late spring. The grass is tall and verdant and bends elegantly in the rich breeze. I can breathe. The din of the late afternoon by the sea is of course the glorious sounds of crashing waves, squawking seagulls, and children laughing as they bravely run into the water. I’m usually so charmed and comforted by the elegant dance of nature, but today, my mind needs to be soothed by my panacea, my lifeblood, my cure all: music. Very deliberately, I put on Sam Cooke’s “A Change is Gonna Come,” widely regarded as one of the most iconic civil rights anthems, as well as one of my favourite songs. The emotion is not just in the heart-wrenching lyrics which simultaneously brim with hope whilst also being deeply sorrowful and filled with yearning for a life which is not afforded to people who are not white, but also in the way Cooke so expertly emotes and conveys the true pain of a marginalized existence.`
The song was recorded in 1962, and the fact that it’s 2020 and the present tense to describe the state of racial inequality is what weighs heavily on my mind. Cooke did not live long enough to see the change he sung so passionately about; in 1963, he was murdered in what is now widely regarded as a planned robbery in a lonely motel off a highway by the motel manager who claimed Cooke, who was known to carry large amounts of cash, had tried to sexually assault her, so she claimed to have shot him in self-defence. The evidence did not match her story, but she was believed, because he was black. Guilty until proven innocent, even though the money Cooke had earlier in the evening was missing. That didn’t matter. He was black.
“Then I go to my brother, and I say ‘brother, help me please’ but he winds up knocking me back down on my knees.”
George Floyd was an African American man murdered on May 25, 2020, in Minneapolis, Minnesota by a police officer who arrested him for allegedly using a counterfeit $20 bill a a convenience store. The owner of the convenience store spoke highly of Floyd, and said that he was a regular costumer with whom he’d never had any problems; he was not there that day and it was a teenage employee who phoned the police as protocol when he thought the $20 bill was counterfeit. Four police arrived, and Floyd was handcuffed, knocked down to the ground, and a police officer pressed his knee against Floyd’s neck for 8 minutes and 48 seconds, cutting off his air supply whilst appearing so steely and devoid humanity.
Floyd begged for his life, repeatedly saying that he was in pain and could not breathe. Onlookers tried desperately to persuade the officer to take his knee off of Floyd’s neck to no avail, and the other three officers on the scene failed to intervene. Five minutes in, Floyd, whose mother passed away two years ago, called out to her and said “Mama, I’m through.” He then said his final words “Please, I can’t breathe.” He went limp, and the officer kept his knee on his neck for three more minutes, and his pulse was taken shortly after. There was none to be found, and an hour later, he was officially pronounced dead. Murdered. The police officer’s name does not deserve to be mentioned, and may he forever be known solo as the murderer of George Floyd.
“It’s been too hard living, but I’m afraid to die, because I don’t know what’s up there beyond the sky.”
If there is such a thing as heaven, may Floyd be wrapped in his mother’s arms, enveloped in the love and protection that only a mother can provide. The very protection and love that was so cruelly denied to him in the last moments of his life.
And with that thought, I sigh heavily, close my journal, and wonder how many more will die. I ponder about what such an afterlife may be like, and in it I see all of the victims killed as a result of systemic racism singing songs of freedom with Sam Cooke. We must acknowledge it, speak about it, stand in solidarity, and honour that black lives matter. Systemic racism is a real. This is not just the fight for African-Americans, or for the country of America. This is my fight. This is your fight. This is our fight. This is the world’s fight. Enough is enough, and it’s time for the change that Sam Cooke crooned about decades ago to finally come to fruition.