400 Years in Eight Minutes

Pressure Drops

Still from body cam footage of the arrest of George Floyd.

The difficulty of speaking about this “historical moment” is that the “moment” has been going on for 400 years, featuring a lot of speaking and almost no structural change. There is everything to say. There is nothing to say. It’s all been said. It all must be said again. Words cannot express the rage we feel. Yet, words are all we have to express our rage. Words and the street. Who will hear us? What will it matter? The words have spoken. The flames have been lit. The street has burned before. It will burn again. What has changed? What will change? How can it be made to happen?

The body count stubbornly remains the same, year after year. A thousand a year people killed by cops in the US. With body cameras and without. With community policing and without. With stop-and-frisk or without. Before broken windows policing and after. Before Black Lives Matter and after. We’ve seen it play out again and again. Heard the cries for breath. Seen the hands help up. Watched the fear in the faces. Listened to the sermons of contrition and vows for reform. Since Michael Brown was murdered by Ferguson police on August 9, 2014, police have killed nearly 6000 people in the US. Despite six years of protests and vows of reform from liberal politicians, the blood flows, year after year at the same rate, almost to the ounce.

I am struck by the horrible trivialness of these recent murderous episodes. A man shot for jogging away from a house under construction. Shot by a former detective, acting as a hired gun for a white neighborhood in Georgia. A medical technician shot in her bed in Louisville when cops broke into her house on a no-knock drug raid, guns blazing. They had targeted her boyfriend. But they didn’t care who they shot. A man buys a pack of cigarettes with a counterfeit bill in Minneapolis. The clerk says there’s something funny about the paper. He apologizes and hands back the pack of smokes. The clerk calls the cops. They find him sitting in his car, pull him out, hold him down, knee pressed to his throat. He pleads for his life, screams he can’t breathe, passes out. The knee remains thrust on his throat for another two minutes and fifty seconds. Eight minutes in total. The time it talks to walk a half mile. The time it takes to boil pasta. The length of The Who’s “Won’t Get Fooled Again.” Why? Why do police feel empowered to kill people on mere suspicion of petty crimes? Why does the government encourage it? Why do we tolerate it?

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Jeffrey St. Clair is editor of CounterPunch. His most recent book is An Orgy of Thieves: Neoliberalism and Its Discontents (with Alexander Cockburn). He can be reached at: sitka@comcast.net or on Twitter @JeffreyStClair3

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