“I Can’t Breathe”, A Call to Action

“I Can’t Breathe”, A Call to Action May 29, 2020


As he pleaded for his life, “I can’t breathe”, another innocent African American life was lost. The murder of George Floyd at the hands of four police officers is yet another unfortunate loss of a precious life, symptomatic of a widespread disease, as lethal as the Covid-19 pandemic. The disease is called racism and police brutality against African Americans and other minorities. “I can’t breathe” is a call for action. “I can’t breathe” is a plea to awaken our conscience.

I have been relatively dormant in the blogosphere for the past couple of months due to personal reasons but I could not stay quiet anymore when I saw the heart wrenching video of George Floyd pleading for his life, laying on the ground, while the police officer is kneeling on his neck, that reportedly went on for 9 minutes!

George Floyd was not “resisting arrest”. He was not “threatening” the officers. He was not “acting strange” that “necessitated the police to use force”- terms we often hear after all-too-familiar arrests of African Americans and other minorities at the hands of racist cops.

I am not against cops. I am not against whites. There are good white cops who follow the rule. I get that. But this is happening way too often and to consider these racist cops who use brutal, unnecessary force as isolated incidents is hard to believe. They reflect an institutional problem within the police force. There is a systemic problem within our law enforcing agencies across the country- from New York, to Chicago, to Minneapolis to Los Angeles and the land in between.

Too often these cases are reported as the victims resisting police action, like what happened in this case- except that the murder was caught on camera, exposing the racism, brutality and the lies. I wonder what would have happened if it had not been shot on camera and shown across the world.

I can’t get over the last words of George Floyd- “I can’t breathe”. How much more clear he needed to be?

How can one justify the action of the murderer? There is only one conclusion. The murderer had no regard for the life of an African American. The killer police officers were blinded by their racism and hatred. Hate is not something you can touch. Hate is something you feel. In this case we all felt it and saw it.

Then our president goes on to tweet, when the protest erupted in Minneapolis after the video became public, calling for “…when the looting starts, shooting starts”. Wondering where his sense of law and order was when the white supremacists were marching with AR-15 rifles and confronting the police.

The problem of racism predates Trump’s presidency- I know that. But his words and actions have only emboldened the white supremacists of all kinds- including those in the police force.

As a Muslim (and other people of faith), it is our duty to speak up against injustice and oppression- no matter who the victims are and no matter who the perpetrator’s are.

O you who believe! Stand out firmly for justice, as witnesses to Allah, though it may be against yourselves, or your parents, or your kin, and whether it be (against) rich or poor…The Qur’an 4:135

….if anyone killed a person not in retaliation of murder, or (and) to spread mischief in the land – it would be as if he killed all mankind, and if anyone saved a life, it would be as if he saved the life of all mankind. The Qur’an 5:32

This is a time for some introspection also.

The other unfortunate truth is that there is occult racism even in our Muslim communities. Even though we glorify Bilal, the African slave who converted to Islam, and was a close companion of Prophet Muhammad, the truth is we often don’t mingle with African Americans and Latinos. When we are on an empty train and see a young African American enter the train, we tend to move to another car or hang on to our purses a little more tightly. We still don’t want to move into neighborhoods with a large African American population. We tend to see them as unintelligent, prone to violence, mugging and the sorts.

We also cannot remain quiet when we see injustice. Remaining quiet in the face of injustice is siding with the oppressor. Here are some of the famous quotes about choosing to stay on the sidelines in the face of injustice and oppression.

If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality. Archbishop Desmond Tutu

The ultimate tragedy is not the oppression and cruelty by the bad people but the silence over that by the good people. Dr Martin Luther King Jr

If I sit silently, I have sinned.  Mohammad Mossadegh

I am pleading for you to do your part- speak up, write something, post on social media, go to (peaceful) rallies- whatever you can do to help bring justice. Unfortunately nothing will bring George Floyd back but his soul and his family and loved ones deserve justice. Countless other African American victims of police racism and brutality from years past deserve justice. And if our actions and words can prevent even one such incident in future, then all of these efforts are worthwhile.

May God bless the soul of George Floyd and help bring justice to his murderers. Ameen.

Unfortunately George Floyd is not breathing anymore but we have to do our part.


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