I’m black, British and just moved to New York. After the Eric Garner decision, I can’t breathe

I’m black, British and just moved to New York. After the Eric Garner decision, I can’t breathe

The Guardian
London, United Kingdom

Lanre Bakare, Commissioning Editor
Guardian US, New York, New York

Before I moved to the US, I knew their names: Rodney King. Michael Stewart. Trayvon Martin. Vonderrit Myers Jr. Kajieme Powell. I committed them to memory like Stephen Lawrence and Anthony Walker – young black men killed or violently beaten by police or vigilantes, black people killed in a system designed to hold them back, keep them down and then brazenly deny that was ever the intention.

Watching the aftermath of those deaths from the distance of the UK was one thing: as a black British man I identified with it, yet I never felt it. But being in America, it’s more infuriating, more frightening – and more personal, because now I walk these streets. It’s a reality. Not just something that happens in a country thousands of miles away. I have begun to understand what James Baldwin meant when he wrote: “To be a Negro in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in a rage almost all the time.”

On Wednesday, when a grand jury here in New York failed to find a reason to even send to trial a white police officer who choked the life out of a black man, I finally got it. As I sat on the subway to my new home in Brooklyn, the image of Eric Garner stumbling after six cops dragged him to the ground – the sound of him wheezing “I can’t breathe” – would not leave me. I got home and watched his widow and his mother talk about the lack of humanity in the man who killed him. I thought about Spike Lee’s Do The Right Thing, about Radio Raheem and how it was disgusting that a movie based on another killing – one that took place more than more than 20 years ago – could play out, almost frame for frame, in 2014…

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