BY FR. RAFAEL GARCIA, S.J. | June 16, 2020
The killing of George Floyd, an unarmed, Black man, lying on the pavement with the white police officer’s knee planted on his neck for about 8 minutes, leading to death by asphyxiation, while fellow police officers watched, has touched a deep fiber in millions in our nation. It made me angry as well. This is still happening in the U.S. The injustice and violence were obvious and recorded for all to see.
The response has been multi-racial and international. The horrifying scene of this officer’s emotionless glancing at the camera, as he pressed his knee on this man who was crying out for his life, resonates with so many episodes of injustices and violence in our land and in the world.
“I can’t breathe” and “they are going to kill me,” are terrifying words that whether spoken out loud, written, or held in hearts, deteriorate and denigrate individuals, communities, and our planet. Many have reacted because they also feel some type of suffocation. Alarmingly, as with George Floyd’s breathless plea, this goes unnoticed day in and day out:
Millions in developing nations contracting COVID-19, with little or no healthcare or access to ventilators cry out “I can’t breathe!”
Hundreds of millions of impoverished people in Africa, Asia, the Americas, and governments, who are being suffocated by unpayable World Bank and IMF loans cry out: “We can’t breathe!…They are going to kill us!”
Indigenous communities and residents of villages from Honduras to the Congo experiencing destruction of their land, homes, and heritage, driven by extraction of minerals and wealth from their land, cry out: “They are killing us;” “They are destroying our land!”
The unborn child in different stages of gestation, threatened by instruments and suction machines would cry out if they could: “They are going to kill me!”
Continued destruction of forests, Earth’s lungs, and contamination of the atmosphere in major cities, are making many cry out now “We can’t breathe!”
Young, successful members of our society, who know so much of their lives hang on the thread of fragile DACA protection, cry out, as they experience threats from the Trump Administration: “I can’t breathe due to anxiety.”
LGBTQ persons, trying to go about their lives, are targeted and ridiculed, and in some places, persecuted, even to death, cry out: “They are going to kill me!”
The migrant and asylum seeking person escaping from violence, persecution, corruption, and extreme poverty, cries out as they are packed in with many others in the truck’s sealed storage area: “We can’t breathe!”
Other migrant and asylum seekers who fled death threats in their home country are rejected by our nation, placed in planes back to the same situation, must also think with anguish as they land, “They will kill me!”
The bruised woman, victim of continued spousal abuse and domestic violence, screams or swallows her words as she endures more beatings, broken bones, and humiliation, “He is going to kill me!”
Black and brown persons living with fear and threats from racist and white supremacist neighbors and co-workers, vigilante groups, and many others who feel emboldened by President Trump’s racist attitudes and actions, think or cry out, for themselves and their families: “Will they kill us? Will we be able to breathe?”
The millions of marginalized and undocumented in our society, who have to live in inadequate, unsafe, rodent infested apartments rented out by their unscrupulous owners, or slumlords, cry out, or not, for fear of eviction and discovery: “I can’t breathe in this space!”
The man or woman suffering heavily from the illness of addiction to alcohol, drugs, pornography, cries out as they await the next fix that they can’t get: “I can’t breathe until I get it!”
The minor—possibly now an adult—suffering from sexual abuse by clergy, a family member, or someone else whom they trusted, cries out, often for years: “I can’t breathe with such pain!”
The migrant farmworker, day laborers denied a just wage or payment at the end of the workday or week for lack of documents, with a family to support, will rightfully cry out from their heart: “Will my family and I survive and breathe?”
The everyday woman and man, who faces society’s unjust structures, laws, discrimination, abuse at the workplace, continuous unemployment, no access to adequate healthcare, might undoubtedly by crying out: “This is going to kill me! I can’t breathe.”
And silently, but most critically, as our planet Earth continues to be plundered by unscrupulous mining and extraction companies and polluted by fossil fuels, corporate greed, and materialistic lifestyles, cries out: “They are going to kill me! And this will kill you!”
Are we surprised that so many have identified with George Floyd’s plea for life and have taken to the streets?
When Saul was going about the religiously motivated action of persecuting the “followers of the Way”, the Risen Christ appeared to him on the road in a surprising, shocking way, and said, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” Christ revealed that by persecuting and killing his followers, Saul was persecuting Him.
The Risen Christ, at the moment of death, breathed out his Spirit of Life into the world. Yet greed, racism, injustice, materialism, violence, an unreflective lifestyle—sin—are asphyxiating humanity, many to death.
Jesus also taught that whatever we do, good or bad, to the least of one’s brothers or sisters, we do to Him. Using one’s imagination, one could rightly see Jesus today, lying on the ground, handcuffed, with a knee on his neck, crying out: “I can’t breathe! They are going to kill me!”
Again, and again!
Fr. Rafael Garcia, S.J., a Jesuit of the UCS Province, serves in El Paso, Texas, in pastoral care at ICE detention center and Southwest Key for unaccompanied minors. He is also the director of The Encuentro Project, a border immersion and educational program. Fr. Rafael is the incoming pastor of Sacred Heart Parish, adjacent to the El Paso-Ciudad Juarez border, where he previously served as pastor from 1994-2007.