‘It Was a Modern-Day Lynching’: Violent Deaths Reflect a Brutal American Legacy

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tags: racism, violence, lynching, White Supremacy

A VIDEO SHOWS George Floyd, a black man, lying in the street in anguish, with his head crushed against the pavement. A white officer presses his knee into Floyd’s neck. “I can’t breathe,” Floyd, 46, says repeatedly. “Please. Please. Please. I can’t breathe. Please, man.” Bystanders, filming the scene, plead with the officer to stop. He doesn’t. As three other officers stand by, he kneels on Floyd for eight minutes and 48 seconds as the life seeps from his body.

“It was a modern-day lynching,” said Arica Coleman, an historian, cultural critic, and author.

“This man was lying helplessly on the ground. He’s subdued. There’s the cop kneeling on his neck. This man is pleading for his life. To me, that is the ultimate display of power of one human being over another. Historically, you could be lynched for anything.”

From 1877 to 1950, more than 4,400 black men, women, and children were lynched by white mobs, according to the Equal Justice Initiative. Black people were shot, skinned, burned alive, bludgeoned, and hanged from trees. Lynchings were often conducted within sight of the institutions of justice, on the lawns of courthouses. Some historians say the violence against thousands of black people who were lynched after the Civil War is the precursor to the vigilante attacks and abusive police tactics still used against black people today, usually with impunity.

Floyd’s death came six weeks after police in Louisville, Kentucky, fatally shot Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old black woman, during a midnight “no-knock” raid on her home. It came 10 weeks after the killing of Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year-old black man, who was chased down by a white father and son in a pickup truck as he jogged in his neighborhood in Glynn County, Georgia.

Historians say the deaths seemed to rip the scab from 400 years of oppression of black people. During a pandemic that has disproportionately sickened and killed African Americans, the deaths unleashed a rage against oppression that became a catalyst for uprisings across the country and around the world—from Paris to Sydney, Australia; from Amsterdam to Cape Town, South Africa—as thousands poured into streets, demanding justice and an end to police brutality.

Read entire article at National Geographic

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