Photo Source Kaitlynn Hendricks | CC BY 2.0

Journalist Jamal Khashoggi repeatedly told his killers “I can’t breathe” during his final moments in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2, CNN reported Monday.

As people set upon Khashoggi, he started fighting for air, repeating, “I can’t breathe” at least three times.

As aficionados of human suffering may recall, these were precisely the same final words uttered by Eric Garner on July 17, 2014 on Staten Island when New York Police Officer Daniel Pantaleo put him in a chokehold. Police accosted Garner for allegedly selling cigarettes without a tax stamp and pulled him down to the sidewalk.

While four other officers restrained him and Pantaleo pushed his face into the sidewalk, Garner repeated “I can’t breathe” eleven times before losing consciousness. Neither the officers nor the emergency medical technicians they called performed CPR on Garner, who was pronounced dead at the hospital.

The medical examiner ruled Garner’s death a homicide, but a grand jury opted not to indict Pantaleo. Only the man who took a video of the incident was jailed. A public outcry and various demonstrations protesting police brutality to Garner caused the City of New York to settle out of court with Garner’s family for $5.9 million.

How many others have uttered those same last words with no one to remember them? Perhaps children crushed under remains of buildings destroyed with U.S. weapons in Iraq or Afghanistan or Syria or Yemen?

During the recording of Khashoggi’s murder, one of the voices was identified in the transcript by Turkish authorities as Dr Salah al-Tubaigy, a forensic expert who specialises in post mortem examination.

Tubaigy tells others to put in earphones or listen to music, as he is doing, the CNN source said.

The transcript then used singular words to describe the noises, including “scream”, “gasping”, “saw”, and “cutting”.

Trump has refused to listen to the Turkish Tapes of the gruesome Khashoggi murder. We thought it was because he was squeamish. Or didn’t want to admit to having heard the “smocking gun” of MBS complicity. But the reason may turn out to be something quite different.

He might be worried about enjoying those gruesome goings-on a little too much, perhaps imagining he was overhearing the final fate of Michael Cohen or Robert Mueller or Jeff Sessions dying at his direction. Oh, for absolute power over his enemies – like MBS or Putin or even Erdogan himself. Sweeney Trump!

All the while listening to the driving beat of Twisted Sister’s “We’re Not Going to Take It,” though the group forbade Trump from using that anthem at his rallies. All the more delicious to violate one more taboo! Or maybe tapping his toes to the Rolling Stones singing “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” knowing it was drowning out the screams of Hillary Clinton or Omarosa Manigault or Michael Avenatti perishing at his whim, under his downward pointing thumb.

But those might become the final words of many more of us, smothering under Republican dirty tricks like gerrymanders and voter suppression tactics and last-minute subversion of the popular will by rogue legislators hobbling the powers of incoming Democratic governors, as in Wisconsin. Or more literally, by Mitch McConnell’s Congress cutting off medical care for millions who may be unable to inhale another gulp of oxygen. Or the desecration of public lands by Trump pals mining coal or fracking shale for oil, fouling our atmosphere.

“I can’t breathe” is the perfect t-shirt or gimme cap retort to MAGA, the last gasp of a nation striving to regain its integrity in the face of a president and a party that has none. And we don’t need to wait until 2020 to shout it out.


James McEnteer’s most recent book is Acting Like It Matters: John Malpede and the Los Angeles Poverty DepartmentHe lives in Quito, Ecuador.