Cries for Freedom
When news broke about the murder of George Floyd in late May of this year, I didn’t even flinch. I had become all too accustomed to when I saw a black man killed by a cop on national TV; I continued my day as normal. I had become all too accustomed to the headlines, the cell phone videos, and the finger pointing.
But then I saw the video. I saw the knee on the neck of George Floyd as the life drained out of him, as he begged to breathe. I had flashbacks to being the bottom of the pig-pile in backyard football, where my claustrophobia would shoot on as I screamed to “get off, I can’t breathe.” And I realized that nobody deserves to die that way. Nobody should be belittled to the level of begging for a breathe, and nobody should have the power to decide a life like so.
I went for a walk with my dad that night, and mid-way through, I broke down. How are we just going about our day as normal?
In the days that followed, something inside of me ached to do something about it. As the protests began, first in Minneapolis and spreading to cities nationwide, I was glued to the TV each night. And on the first Sunday after George Floyd was killed, my brother, Jason, and two friends, Sam and Nitin, decided to go into D.C. to join the protests.
The four of us wandered the streets of D.C., grabbing food before searching for the protesters. We passed small groups, wondering if we were even in the right spot. Then we heard it.
The streets rumbled with the footsteps of protest; cries for freedom shot into the air.
My heart started racing, as the group we had found started running to join the masses. The chants roared back and forth:
Black lives matter.
No justice. No peace.
Say his name. George Floyd.
Show me what democracy sounds like. This is what democracy sounds like.
Say her name. Breonna Taylor.
Hands up. Don’t Shoot.
I can’t breathe.
What do we want? Justice. When do we want it? Now.
For those who know me, you know I don’t really raise my voice. But on this day, I yelled. I yelled, and yelled, and yelled.
After marching for a few blocks, we ended in front of the White House. We took a knee. We took a moment of silence for the lives lost and organizers spoke. The chants continued.
As I looked around, I was inspired. Surrounded by thousands of strangers, I could feel the demand for change. I saw people of all ages, skin colors, and backgrounds, coming together to fight for our Black neighbors.
My brother invited me to join him again the following weekend, at a more organized protest. Again we hopped on the metro, and headed towards the meeting spot in DuPont Circle.
We arrived to a ton of other protestors, and soon organizers took over with a mic. A group sang, others spoke, and the plan was laid out. And we were off.
The air was different this time. People lined the streets, cheering on the protestors, handing out water and snacks. The chants echoed through the streets. For much of the time, I walked near a young Black man. His sign read “Imagine How Tired We Are.” I’ll never forget him. I felt for him.
Alongside my brother, I yelled. The energy grew as we got closer to the White House.
Soon we stopped, and the organizers took over with their megaphones. It was time for our demonstration: 8 minutes and 46 seconds laying down on the pavement of the “Black Lives Matter” mural, for the amount of time George Floyd begged for his life on the street of Minneapolis.
Time slowed down. It was quiet for the first few minutes. “I know it’s uncomfortable,” one leader said, “but just remember what George Floyd went through.” Soon, the chants started.
“I can’t breathe.”
“I can’t breathe.”
“I can’t breathe.”
I broke. I cried. Emotions were in the air.
Soon the time ended, people rose back to their feet, and filled in the space towards the White House. The rest of the time was spent continuing chants. People spoke about their experiences, about continuing the fight. People talked about the importance of voting. One young black high schooler was pushed into the middle of a circle to explain the Electoral College. He fumbled over his words, but if we’re being honest, it’s hard to make sense of. Another protestor helped fill in. One man talked about coming down from New York for this: “D.C., this is where we make change.”
Later, Jason and I walked to the Washington Monument, and then to the Lincoln Memorial. It was some of the best bonding time we have ever spent together. It felt right.
Critics will say it was dangerous; it was in the middle of a pandemic. And to that I say, some things are more important. I was willing to risk sickness to fight for equality. Freedom for our Black communities and individuals couldn’t wait.
If you were to tell me in high school that I’d be going into D.C. to protest, I’m not sure I would have believed you. I wasn’t passionate about racism, nor educated about it. I’ve definitely grown since then.
Going to the protests changed my life. I felt like I had purpose, that I was a part of something. That I was standing up for something. I saw people from all walks of life unite, and as hard of a summer as it was, it was inspiring. I felt like I was experiencing history in the making.
Protest by no means are the climax of the fight for equality. They aren’t the end game. But they are an effective way of showing unity. Of bring attention to the problem. With them, hopefully people will take steps in their lives to make change.
This is something I am passionate about, and will continue to be passionate about. I hope we can continue the fight for equality, for the next generations and the generations that come after. It takes all of us.
May George Floyd not have died in vain.