“I can’t breathe!”

I planned to blog about point-of-view in fiction writing today. I don’t know about you, but I haven’t been able to settle my mind around point-of-view in fiction the last couple of weeks and especially not in the last seven days.

I don’t take lightly what I’m posting here today. I’ve wrestled with the words all weekend. I take no joy in saying what is on my heart.

I live in the United States. This is a watershed moment in this country. We are beginning to come to grips with social and racial injustice which has existed in America since its very founding. I will blog about point-of-view in fiction writing at another time when it seems more appropriate.

What happened May 25, 2020

On May 25, 2020, a police officer murdered Mr. George Floyd who was suspected of passing a counterfeit $20 bill. He might not have even known the bill was counterfeit. Three other officers were there. Two were new on the job, so I can’t help but think the officer in charge was making a show for them.

Mr. Floyd was slammed to the pavement. One police officer held his knee on the man’s neck for nearly nine minutes. Part of the time, two other offices held the hand-cuffed man down by pressing down on his back. One of the officers asked his superior officer twice, “Shouldn’t we turn him over?”

Among the last words Mr. Floyd uttered were, “I can’t breathe!” He lost consciousness and died on the scene. The police officers were white. Mr. Floyd was black. It was all captured on a 17-year-old young woman’s cell phone video.

This type of thing has happened over and over again. One would think it would have stopped when the police knew that there’s always someone nearby with a cell phone, but this has happened repeatedly in the United States even as rogue police actions are captured on camera.

I want to believe that most police officers are honest, fair, and people of good character; however, we all know that there are officers who represent the worst in our society. There are “good” people and “bad” people among us and in every walk of life.

But the problem is more systemic than that. As police departments have been weaponized more and more since September 11, 2001, I think there has grown within that brotherhood more of a military mindset than existed before.

As a white woman, I’ve had several bad experiences with police officers. I can’t begin to imagine how it must feel to be a person of color dealing with a police officer. White people like to think, “If you’re not doing anything wrong, you have nothing to worry about.” Sadly, that’s not the reality that black people live every day in the United States.

For black people in America, doing the right thing and being compliant when stopped by a police officer isn’t necessarily enough. Mr. Floyd didn’t resist arrest, as far as can be seen on the video. That wasn’t enough to save his life.

What happened to Mr. George Floyd on May 25 was tragic and abhorrent. “I can’t breathe!”

Black Lives Matter
Photo by Mitchell Luo on Unsplash

In response to this incident, there have been peaceful protests by hundreds of thousands of people of all colors across the nation. (My favorite sign in the photo above is the one that says, “If you’re not angry, you aren’t paying attention.”)

"God marches with us" sign in peaceful protest in the US in June 2020
Photo by Andrew Winkler on Unsplash

In some of the cities, a violent element has emerged and committed acts of violence and looting of businesses. The few looters give the peaceful demonstrators a bad name and they draw attention away from the real issues.

I was horrified to watch the murder of Mr. Floyd on television. I was saddened and angered to watch the looting on television. The rioting and looting only served to take the spotlight off of Mr. Floyd and the other black men and women who have died at the hands of rogue cops. The looting of businesses hurts the very people for whom the peaceful protesters are marching.

Insurrection Act of 1807 Threat

Last Monday, Donald Trump threatened to enact the Insurrection Act of 1807 and, in the process, turned the police against a group of peaceful protesters with tear gas, flash bangs, and rubber bullets so he could stage a photo-op across the street from the White House at a church. I heard the Attorney General of the United States say it wasn’t tear gas. He said it was pepper spray. He went on to say that pepper spray is not an irritant. And so it goes. And so it goes.

Mr. Trump went on the threaten to deploy the US military into states if state governors didn’t put an end to the protests. He essentially said that if the governors didn’t take care of the problem, he would.

For those of you who are not US citizens, I want you to understand how despicable Mr. Trump’s threat is.

Photo by Gayatri Malhotra

Since Washington, DC (District of Columbia) is not a state or in a state, the president has the authority to call in the US military into that city; however, he does NOT have the authority to order the US military into states if the governors don’t put a stop to the protests in their states. He cannot legally do that. Under the Insurrection Act of 1807, the president can only mobilize the military in a US state at the request of that state’s governor.

What has happened over the last two weeks has made me sick to my core. I cannot find the words to adequately express my anger, sadness, disappointment, shock, sorrow, or fear.

The US military is supposed to protect us, not beat us into submission! Mr. Trump’s idea of “law and order” is to quell anyone or any group that dares to speak out against him.

The list of retired US military officers who have spoken out against Mr. Trump’s threats last Monday continues to grow. Several have used strong language such as saying Mr. Trump is “a threat to the Constitution.”

Use of a Church and the Bible just as props

The icing on the cake was when Mr. Trump posed in front of a church and held up a Bible. Then, he called his all-white White House staff to stand with him for another photo-op with the Bible.

Numerous religious leaders have spoken out against what Mr. Trump did in front of St. John’s Church last Monday. He held a Bible in the air and looked stone-faced into the cameras. He didn’t read from the Bible, he didn’t pray, and he didn’t call for prayer for our country in crisis. He offered no words of consolation for all the hurting people. He didn’t mention Mr. George Floyd.

Still oblivious, on Friday Mr. Trump said “George” (not “George Floyd” and not “Mr. Floyd”) was probably looking down on us and saying it was a great day because the unemployment rate in the US dropped to 13.3% in April. He failed to mention that unemployment rates for black Americans increased to 16.8%.

My hope and prayer

I pray that people will think long and hard before they vote in November on the national, state, and local levels. Every four years, Americans tend to say, “This is the most important election in our lifetimes.” I’ve thought and said that myself. It was certainly true about the 2016 election but, if the 2020 presidential election goes the way the 2016 election did, there will be a real constitutional crisis in store for us.

Photo by Andy Feliciotti on Unsplash

The United States Senate had a chance in January to impeach Mr. Trump and remove him from office. The Republican majority caved. They’ve been predictably silent throughout the Covid-19 pandemic and the president’s mishandling of the current racial injustice crisis.

Mr. Trump’s answer has been to make threats and have layer after layer of fencing and concrete blockades built around the White House in the past week. He got an expensive education, but it’s sad he wasn’t given a history or civics lesson. The White House is “the people’s house.” It’s not his house. It’s his, rent-free for four years.

It was never my intent to use my blog as a political platform, but I have this internet platform and I would be remiss if I ignored what is happening in America. It is way past time for all Americans to look within ourselves and honestly recognize our prejudices. I believe we all have prejudices. Each of us has flaws and faults.

If I see injustice and I don’t speak out, I’m complicit. I’m part of the problem. There is racism in the White House. There is racism in the US justice system. There is racism within city and county police departments.

Until people in all positions of authority and those of us who are not in positions of authority recognize and name our prejudices, the problem of social and racial injustice in the United States will remain with us.

Until we embrace these words in the US Declaration of Independence, “all men are created equal,” our country can’t reach its full potential. Until Americans of all colors can reach their full potential, our country can’t reach its full potential. I sincerely hope 2020 is a turning point for the good of the whole of the United States.

“I have a dream…”

Martin Luther King, Jr. statue, Washington, DC
Photo by Sonder Quest on Unsplash

I pray that the day will come when the words of Dr. Martin Luther King in his “I Have a Dream” speech August 28, 1963 become a reality. Dr. King said, in part, the following:

“I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.’

“I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood….

“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”

We’ve come a long way since 1963, when I was 10 years old, but I’m appalled to realize how far we still have to go before Dr. King’s dream can become a reality. It’s been 57 years since his speech. Let that sink in for a minute. Fifty-seven years.

I thank God I live in a country where I have the right to criticize the government and political office holders without fear of retribution. I pray it will remain so today and especially after the November 2020 election. Free speech is a fragile thing.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I suggest you make a conscious effort to read a book written by a person whose skin color is different from your own. Ask for a recommendation at your local library or bookstore.

Continue to stay safe during the Covid-19 pandemic. Care for one another. Wear a mask to protect others.

Treat others the way you want to be treated. Be an instrument of God’s peace. Seek ways in which you can work for social justice.


38 thoughts on ““I can’t breathe!”

  1. Beautifully said Janet. You have really explored in depth, the situation as it exists and as it is developing daily in the US and now also in Europe, as here in Madrid we have had a major march for equality and the end of racism. I salute you for your effort and for your decision and for your knowledge that as you said, if we who have a platform do not use it for good, we will be complicit with the evil. Thank you so much!!! All the best,

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Ms Janet, so so much of what you wrote here today I have wrestled with. Since this happened I feel lost and so sad and angry as well. I am mother of 2 black sons and I even questioned why I gave birth at all. Is this the world I want my kids to inhabit?
    This never-ending nightmare of racial profiling is so very real, I experienced it in NY many many times without wrongdoing. I experience it it Texas as well, along with my husband who is currently in NY fighting COVID as a nurse.
    I experience discrimination every day in every of my life from mostly white persons. I work in the emergency room as a nurse and I experience it from persons who come in to seek care even, imagine that… they are sick but I am too black to care for them. I have been called all types of names while doing my job by white patients. Imagine the prejudices a person of color can harbor if you do not make a conscious effort to be bitter. My kids experience prejudice from school from peers and God forbid from their teachers as well.

    There is a God and we must/will all answer for the choices we make… we must all search ourselves and realize that yes, while all lives matter, black lives are always in jeopardy and we live in a constant state of stress that contributes to the collective state of our health as persons of color.

    Like you, I created my blog to reach out and touch, to share knowledge and to learn from others and never intended to use it as a means for anything other than to spread love. However the current state of our lives DEMAND that we speak and say something. Let us begin to openly dialogue and in so doing perhaps tear down some walls of prejudice and fear and see that we are all just people… more similar that we are different.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Francisco, I appreciate your comment so much. I value the insight you have on this issue from your unique perspective. I appreciate your blog post from several days ago in which you addressed this matter. I did not leave a comment, as I was already struggling with what I wanted to say in my post today. It isn’t easy to bare one’s soul on an international platform like this. Since you know that from experience, I very much appreciate your compliment today. My best to you from a peaceful North Carolina.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Ms Pene, I can’t thank you enough for what you have written here in response to my blog post. I am truly sorry about the discrimination and ugly words you have suffered from so many white people. It is a sad person who must try to elevate himself or herself above others in order to feel good about themselves. It is a mark of a shallow, cowardly, insecure person who hurls insults at another person just on the basis of the color of the other person’s skin. What baffles me the most is that these people often call themselves Christians.

    I thank you and your husband for your work as nurses. It’s incredible that white people have the audacity to ridicule you even as they are seeking your help! I don’t doubt your words for one second, for I know people who have probably done that very thing. I can’t imagine the level of self-control it must take not to lash out in response to their taunts. I have so much respect for you, Pene.

    I, too, believe we must and will have to answer to God for our actions and words. I love how you worded it, Pene: “…while all lives matter, black lives are always in jeopardy and we live in a constant state of stress that contributes to the collective state of our health as persons of color.” You have given me some words to say back to someone when they say, “But all lives matter.” I will now respond with, “But it is black lives that are always in jeopardy.” I’m going to print that out and tape it to my computer screen.

    My blog has taken me in some unexpected directions. When I started it, I didn’t have a grasp for how widely it would be read. I’m amazed every week to see how many countries my words are being read in. I hope through my words in today’s post and your reply people in the US and around the world will see that we’re all just people. We are more similar than we are different. And on a more personal level, I hope some of the people I was in school with for 12 years — and I thought I knew, but who have shown their true colors on social media — will read my words and your words and do some soul searching. It has only been in the last several years that I came to recognize my white privilege. There are things I took for granted my first 60 years that I have come to see were simply due to my white privilege. It is a learning process.

    In addition to being a gifted nurse, you are a gifted writer. I believe God made our paths cross for a reason. Your words today have really made an impact on me. Thank you for sharing your heart. — Janet

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Yes, Laleh. There is so much strife in the world and in our communities. Everyone deserves to live their lives in peace and without fear of verbal or physical attack. I hope that here in the US we are actually going to make some basic changes in mindset and justice policies starting now. Thank you for your words of wisdom, Laleh.


  6. Yes, I fully understand. I also never planned on getting into or commenting on situations like the one we are referring to but I also think, and I have stated before, that an artist has to be involved in what is happening is society. However, that does not make it any easier or any simpler but I had to be consequential with my own beliefs. This situation is spreading and I do not see it ending any time soon, however, it has evolved into something more valuable, as it is now more non-violent. I never believed the protesters were violent but rather that the protests were hijacked by those who would create violence in the city. Now there are peaceful…and not so…demonstrations here in Europe, including in my city of Valencia. I don’t understand why but…in any event, I highly value your opinion and I thank you sincerely and also found so many good points and such value in your post. Take good care my friend and all the best, stay safe,

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Like you, I’ve been surprised by the protests around the world. I suppose there is a degree of prejudice in every country. It is refreshing and encouraging that the protests have almost all become completely nonviolent. Difficult days and years lie ahead of us, but I am feeling encouraged. I thought something would be done about gun control after Sandy Hook Elementary School and again after Parkland High School, but nothing happened. So far this spring most members of the US Congress have been silent. They need to know that we the people will not be silent on November 3. Stay safe, well, and vocal. Janet

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Gifted50, I’m afraid I addressed you as Pene from the JustPene blog when I responded to your comment earlier this afternoon. Now I’m really confused. Can you please clarify for me are gifted50 and JustPene the same person? When I click on “gifted50,” it takes me to JustPene. I am so embarrassed over my confusion. Please set me straight and accept my apology if I called you by the wrong name.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Yes I am one and the same… Penela is my name and I am called Pene… lol.
    Gifted50 is the name I use on the blog as well as God has shown himself to me many times.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I’ve been pleased with the response so far. I hope others will join us in this discussion. It’s a discussion that needs to happen in every community in America.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. I certainly hope all those who are protesting will go and vote. Last time I recall speaking to many who simply decided not to vote. We must always remain optimists…take good care Janet…I’ve got a good post for tomorrow that also addresses some of the problems seen in the US…in particular…and probably elsewhere in the world. I hope you like it. Have a wonderful evening and all the best,

    Liked by 1 person

  12. This is a beautiful, passionate, insightful, eloquent post, Janet, and I am right there with you. I tend to read somewhat diversely but I plan to make even more of an effort this summer, reading the books I’ve not yet read on the Diverse Spines reading challenge.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. i hope people are still fired up enough to vote in November, too. I’m still trying to catch up to date reading your blog posts, but I’ll be sure to read your post tomorrow. Have a great Tuesday, Francisco!

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Thank you so much, Jennifer! Glad to know weren’t in agreement on this. Thought we were. I need to look into the Diverse Spines reading challenge. Take care.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Thanks 🙏🏻 Janet! I certainly hope people in the US are fired up enough to vote! And I hope you like today’s Tuesdays Tunes! All the best Janet and have a beautiful day!

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Chris, I could have said a lot more, too. You should have seen some of the paragraphs I deleted! We saw on TV the Australian TV team being beaten last Monday in that horrible exhibition of brute force the Trump administration put upon the peaceful protesters and media so he could walk to that church for a photo op. We saw your female reporter being hit on the back with a billy club by that police officer. I can only hope America can begin to rebuild its standing in the world after a new president goes into office on January 20, 2021. The November 3 election can’t come fast enough, as far as I’m concerned. I never thought I’d see my country hit the depths it has hit over the last three and a half years thanks to this president and the do-nothing US Senate. I’ll stop before I saw more. Thank you ever so much for your comment, Chris.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Thanks, Francisco. I loved your Tuesdays Tunes post today. Very powerful! And, yes, I hope we stay fired up until November 3 and vote in record numbers. Enjoy your evening. Writing from a sunny and humid North Carolina. It’s finally summer! Stay safe. Janet

    Liked by 1 person

  18. Yes, there’s a lot that needs to be fixed in the US, and Trump and the riots are (very scary) symptoms of those larger problems. I’m glad you had the courage to say something about it though, and to put it so elequently. Many wouldn’t. There should be more of you.

    Liked by 1 person

  19. Thank you for those kind and insightful words, Chris. Sadly, we don’t even know many of the things Trump has done because he does them in secret or the press just doesn’t pick up on them — things like environmental issues, fracking and oil drilling on public lands, etc. I hope some of the damage he’s done can be undone when wiser people occupy the White House and Congress. Thanks again for the compliment. I didn’t make the decision lightly.


  20. You’re welcome, Francisco. I marvel at what you’re able to post. My little blog challenges my technical abilities. Seriously!

    One of the public library branches I use has partially reopened, so I went today to pick up the six books they were holding for me. Only one person is allowed to go into the library at a time and you can only go in to pick up books that are on reserve for you. You do self-checkout, and exit by a different door. It’s very organized, but so very strange. Normally, I would just browse the shelves for an hour or more.

    Covid-19 cases continue to rise here in North Carolina. Trump got mad because the NC governor refused to guarantee he can pack an arena in Charlotte for the Republican National Convention in August, so he’s threatening to move the convention to another city. I say good riddance. We really don’t need 50,000 people from all 50 states and the territories bringing their germs here to possibly overload our hospitals.

    Enjoy your Wednesday. I hope to get arroz con pollo takeout for lunch tomorrow from a small family-owned restaurant nearby. Trying to help them stay in business until everything reopens completely.

    My best,

    Liked by 1 person

  21. Yes, I understand, just like large stores here in Valencia, you must queue to enter, through one door only, then wear a mask, put on gloves, put on disinfectant gel, then walk out another door. It is bizarre! I do not like the “new normal” and I tell you, the year 2020 has thrown civilisation back centuries after 2019 was such a good year in many ways…I remember going to the public libraries, in Miami they were only used by the homeless, but years ago, I would go in there, research, spend hours browsing…it seems strange that now only one person at a time to pick up a reserved book! Incredible! I never thought I would see these things…reference the COVID 19, we have very few cases, and really in our community there were very few, much less than in Madrid and Barcelona and now hardly nothing, yet they are forcing us to wear the mask in the streets…go figure, in March, when the worst was happening the government said we did not need masks, now there is nothing and they say we have to use it or we might get fined by the police. Everything this year has been turned upside down…anyways, we must always remain optimistic and look at the bright side of life…take good care, enjoy your week and may the sun shine in NC. All the best Janet,


  22. I was required to wear a mask but not gloves in the library. Give of the six books I picked up were newly- published, so they had not been circulated to any other person before me. The only physical books I’m requesting fall in that category. I don’t know when I’ll feel safe to checkout a book that’s already been in circulation. More and more, I only feel perfectly safe from Covid by downloading books to my Kindle. It will be interesting to see what the pandemic permanently does to the publishing industry. Enough about Covid. It’s a beautiful day here and I look forward to sitting outside to read this afternoon. I look forward to your next posts. You always open my eyes to something I didn’t know or give me a new perspective. Thank you, my friend. Janet

    Liked by 1 person

  23. Thank you 😊 Janet. I truly appreciate it and I am so very glad that you are able to find something new and different in and through my posts. I hope you get a lot of reading in and exercise as well and I agree, too much COVID19 talk is not conducive to a positive state of mind. Here in Europe, we’ve now been told that the money and paper items such as newspapers were safe to touch as well as surfaces, which they had said before that were dangerous…so who knows! Take good care and enjoy the day! All the best my friend.

    Liked by 1 person

  24. Yes, we were told paper could harbor the virus, too. There are too many unknowns and too many leaders in denial.

    Not to prolong the discussion, but did you hear this morning’s statement by Gen. Milley, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, regarding his being with Trump on that walk to the photo op at that church in DC? Restored my belief that the US military won’t blindly obey Trump. Just wanted to make sure you heard it. Janet


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