Updated: Dec 28, 2020
By: Vivian Feggans
The image of George Floyd being murdered resides tucked away in my memory. When it takes a notion, it launches a repeat-play, demanding something from me, compelling me to return, or at least, not to forget. My transit of memory obeys, and it carries me there kicking and screaming – I don’t want to go – back to the evening of May 26, 2020 when I first pulled myself together to watch the video. I had only to click the remote’s power button and there was George Floyd, face-down, turned on his left cheek pressed flat on the stone pavement, beneath the knee-wrench of a white policeman. I had seen so many videos of black men, women, and children being shot down in the streets of America that I was afraid I would become numb to them. But this second-by-second, minute-by-minute—it has been reported, 8 minutes and 46 seconds. I have since heard by some accounts that it was longer, but you know what? Who the fuck is counting? Eight minutes and forty-six seconds beneath the full weight of a grown man’s body is pure torture by any stretch of the imagination.
All alone, I watched, and my heart sank to the depths inside me as George Floyd, his words now shallow and guttural, and with much effort says, “I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe.” One report says he uttered those words 16 times; another account says, 20 times. I watch and listen, not wanting to, and I hear, “…my stomach hurts, my neck hurts, everything hurts,” as the policeman keeps the pressure on, with an expression on his face that reflects both depravation and perverse pleasure, and in his stance—his hands nestled all too comfortably inside his pants pockets. There is something to this weird look on Chauvin’s face. Writings in critical race theory have proven that the lynching of Black people was perversely titillating to many Whites. When I have said something to the effect that Chauvin “probably had a hard-on” while killing George Floyd, raised eyebrows and silent replies have not gone unnoticed. Let’s just say that I would love to have frank talk with him about this theory that makes a worthy argument that Whites gained pleasure from the whipping and lynching of Black people.
When George’s words can no longer be understood, coming out as breathless grunts, he stretches his eyes wider, I pray, glimpsing the crowd pleading for his life so he could at least understand he was not alone in his last minutes. My whole body is shaking from inside-out. All of a sudden I flip to another continuum and the flattened face of George Floyd emerges as another George—the one called instead by his middle name, “Leon”—and he is my son and now the faces of both Georges emerge for me, A Black Mother, to see. An involuntary shrieking sound make its way from my belly upward out of my throat and fills my room, the hallway, and the house. I, too, am a helpless bystander just like all the others on that Minneapolis Street—all of us aware that another Black brother is being murdered in front of our eyes and we cannot do a damn thing about it. We know—and we are afraid—that if anyone makes a move to stop that evil white bastard there would be two, even more, Black people dead within minutes.
Finally, without a final moment’s notice, there was silence. George Floyd lays motionless.
I hear a cadre of exclamations from bystanders: “Are you serious?”
“You’re not checking his pulse?” Two random rhetorical questions were all I could make out among a cacophony of unusual, extemporaneous words and word-rhythms.
For a moment, I close my eyes and rest my face in cupped hands, achingly shaking it from side-to-side because I still see my George’s face for George Floyd’s. My shrieking has doubled up with sobbing.
“This is not something I should have watched alone,” I say to myself aloud. But the tragic events caused by being Black in America are not those anyone can plan to witness as a community. Not like a celebratory event such as the one Maya Angelou describes in her accounting of the night Joe Louis, the “Brown Bomber” defended his heavyweight title against a white contender and won in, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, in the “Champion of the World” chapter. When black folks die at the hands of police it does not leave time for us to gather someplace and witness these tragedies together and lend our collective strength to help us through. Not like when Senator Barack Hussein Obama was elected to be America’s first Black president. That night, many had election night parties and they screamed, laughed, cried, shouted, and danced, together.
George’s face still juxtaposes with my George’s face, and my George’s face with his. I want to run out of the house, and go where? I thought. We were, after all, in the center of a pandemic called COVID19, and folks in my neighborhood were being obedient and keeping to themselves.
I pull myself together and I did the next best thing and called one of my gurls. After saying hello and within the first minute, once the painful lump of sob in my throat allowed me to, I barely managed the fragmented statements, “George Floyd” and “I just saw the video.” I couldn’t get past the lump to tell her yet about seeing my son dying.
Marie-Jo—that’s my friend—she was already crying, too, and between the two of us there was awkward silence. So, we gave in and both cried together as we narrated our sadness around this unmanageable tragedy.