In the final moments of George Floyd’s life, he said repeatedly, “I can’t breathe.” The cry—and his subsequent murder— changed the world irrevocably, catalysing protests and inspiring the resurgence of a movement against police brutality and all racially motivated violence against Black people. While George Floyd’s murderer, Officer Derek Chauvin, was found guilty on all charges brought against him for taking away Floyd’s life, we are far from justice, because we are far from peace.
In the year since Floyd’s murder, Black people have continued to lose their lives at the hands of law enforcement. There are countless cases—both recent and from decades ago— of alleged police misconduct resulting in the loss of a Black life that are still pending. Some are nonexistent. Families and loved ones of those believed to have been killed by the people who aim to “serve and protect” have faced the unimaginable.
In addition to the brutality that’s been going on for decades, other social systems have failed to protect Black lives. The medical industry has long-neglected Black communities, and the pandemic has only exacerbated the distance between health care and Black people. The Black community has been disproportionately affected by COVID-19. In the UK, Black and Asian people have had much higher death rates from COVID-19 (10 to 50 percent higher, to be exact) than their white counterparts. Black men have been extraordinarily endangered by COVID-19, with death rates among the demographic almost four times higher than other group. Black women have also been disproportionately affected, with a COVID-19 death rate three times higher than that of other groups.
As a Black woman who’s lived in both the U.S. and UK, I’ve seen how my community struggles in both countries. Like other Black people, I grew up understanding the reality of being Black in predominantly white spaces or company. I was taught to act a certain way—“nonthreatening” —to stay alive. In adulthood, I’ve learnt that sometimes that behavior adjustment isn’t enough.
Along with the world, I’ve watched each case of a loss of Black life with horror. The news cycle moves so quickly, and so much is happening and changing, that these lives have becoming fleeting headlines. But they’re more than that. They’re people who were loved, who laughed, who wanted to make their mark on the world. They have families who adored them, many of whom are still fighting for their justice. They’re much more than a name we say many times for a short while, and then eventually forget and move on.
As we remember George Floyd on the anniversary of his passing, we can’t forget the other lives that mattered and still matter. Read on for the names we won’t stop saying in the fight for Black lives.
On the morning 47-year-old transport worker Belly Mujinga left for her role at Victoria Station in London, fears around COVID-19 were growing. It was the 21st March 2020 and the government had advised against all unnecessary travel and non-essential contact. The schools had all been closed. Those with the ‘most serious health conditions’ had been told they must be ‘largely shielded from social contact.’ Belly – who had health problems that affected her lungs and throat – was nervous. In a video to her family and friends back home she had said “people are afraid… but we have to work.” At the time, there was no guidance that those in customer-facing roles like Belly’s would need face coverings.
Later on in her shift, Mujinga was harassed and reportedly spat on by a male customer. The incident is disputed, but Motolani Sunmola, a colleague of Mujinga who was there, says the customer was “screaming and shouting” at them. He claimed he had the virus, and was “coughing and spitting like an old man who has no teeth.” Once he ran away, Belly rushed to reception to wash the spray of saliva from her face.
In the days following the incident, Mujinga started experiencing symptoms. On 2 April, she was diagnosed with COVID-19. Mujinga was high-risk, so her condition quickly intensified and on 5 April, she died from the coronavirus.
After an investigation, the police concluded there wasn’t sufficient evidence to pursue a case. The decision happened as George Floyd was losing his life half a world away.
Mujinga’s family campaigned for an inquest and Senior Coroner Andrew Walker announced last week that one will take place as her “death may have been unnatural.” A date for the inquest has not yet been set.
Kadiatou Diallo’s son, Amadou, was a dreamer. His biggest dream was to immigrate to the U.S. from Guinea and go to college. He accomplished the former, immigrating to the U.S. in 1997. But before he could achieve the latter, on 4 February 1999, he was fatally shot by four New York City Police Department (NYPD) officers. Diallo was standing near his apartment building when he was hit with 19 of the 41 shots the officers fired. One of the officers later claimed that they mistook Diallo for a rape suspect from 1998. New York City residents were enraged by Diallo’s murder, protesting and holding prayer vigils for the 23-year-old and his family. Civil rights activist Al Sharpton powerfully called the fatal shooting “a police slaughter.”
All four officers were charged with second-degree murder. A jury of eight white jurors and only four Black jurors acquitted the officers of all charges. In 2001, the Justice Department announced it would not press federal civil rights charges against Diallo’s murderers.
In the years since Diallo’s murder, his mother has dedicated her life to preserving her son’s legacy. She’s an author, social activist, and public speaker. Kadiatou Diallo is also the founder and president of The Amadou Diallo Foundation, which works to end racial inequities, promote education, and connect people of African descent. In response to the Derek Chauvin verdict, Diallo said to News 10 in New York that “There’s no time for celebration. There’s time for work. To put in the work that needed to be done, so we can stop seeing these cases time and time again.”
On March 22, 2020, Daniel Prude arrived in Rochester, New York to visit his older brother Joe. The next night, Prude, who at the time was suffering from a mental health episode after ingesting PCP, ran out of his brother’s home shoeless and shirtless. Prude started using PCP after his nephew shot and killed himself in the home they shared in 2018.
Prude’s brother Joe called emergency services hoping to get his brother the help he so clearly needed. Prude was compliant when officers first arrived at his brother’s residence. He lied down and officers handcuffed him. A few minutes later, he grew agitated and began spitting, after which officers put a spit hood over his head. That’s when things escalated.
Prude started rolling on the floor in an attempt to stand up. Officers pinned him down, and one of them held Prude’s head down to the pavement. He pleaded as he struggled to breathe. His pleas stopped after two minutes, and when paramedics arrived, Prude didn’t have a heartbeat. Though they managed to resuscitate him at the scene, Prude died in the hospital a week later.
For months following Prude’s murder, Rochester officials tried to keep the body camera footage of the encounter that led to his death from becoming public. However, the footage was released on 2 September, showing the world what really happened to Prude.
Sadly, this February, New York Attorney General Letita James announced that a grand jury decided not to charge the seven officers who killed Prude. The U.S. Attorney’s office for the Western District of New York also announced that they will review the Attorney General’s report and other evidence, which is a tiny glimmer of hope for Prude’s family.
The system failed David Prude long before and after his death, and his case has brought up important conversations about mental health services’ inaccessibility to Black communities. To help improve access to these services in communities, check out Black Minds Matter.
On 14 April 2021, Daunte Wright was driving with his girlfriend in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota when he lost his life at the hands of former officer Kimberley Potter. Officers pulled the 20-year-old over for a traffic violation (Wright’s car had an expired registration tag/sticker on the license), and after running Wright’s name through a police database, attempted to arrest him.
Wright, who was unarmed, tried to resist arrest and managed to get back into the car. A struggle ensued. In traumatizing body cam footage released the next day, one officer is seen pointing a handgun at Wright and shouting “taser.” But it wasn’t a taser. It was a firearm. After the gun was fired, former officer Potter yelled, “I just shot him.”
After being shot in close range, Wright drove off and hit another car. When medical professionals arrived, they pronounced Wright dead at the scene. The 20-year-old who is described by friends as outgoing with the brightest smile left behind his girlfriend—who was hospitalized after the crash for non-threatening injuries—and an almost-two-year-old son, Daunte Wright Jr.
Officer Kim Potter resigned from the Minneapolis Police Department on 13 April, and has since been charged with manslaughter. A Minneapolis judge ruled on 17 May that Potter is set to stand trial at the end of the year. To support the Wright family and their community, donate the Brooklyn Center Mutual Aid.
Like George Floyd, Jimmy Mubenga couldn’t breathe, and he said so multiple times as immigration guards held his head down on a British Airways flight on 12 October 2010. The officers were deporting the Angola native, who in a last stitch effort to remain in the country for his wife and five children, lunged at the G4S guards as he made his way back to his seat from the bathroom. A struggle ensued, and the three guards cuffed Mubenga behind his back and strapped him into his seat.
Passengers saw the guards heavily restraining Mubenga for almost an hour as he called out for help. In addition to saying that he couldn't breathe, he also yelled “they’re going to kill me.” The guards continued to hold Mubenga’s head down towards his knees. Soon he was quiet, and was later pronounced dead at the hospital. In court the guards said they had not heard him say he could not breathe and had not pushed his head down and forward towards his knees in a position known to risk asphyxia. They said they had been restraining him to stop him hurting himself or other passengers on the plane.
After a three-and a half year investigation and eight-week inquest, the guards responsible for Mubenga’s death were acquitted of all charges.
Breonna Taylor and her boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, were in their apartment when three plainclothes police officers forced their way in using a battering ram. Officers arrived to execute a search warrant they obtained in a drug case. When they barged into the apartment past midnight, Walker and Taylor believed it was a break-in. Walker called his mother, then 911, and armed himself with his legal firearm. Walker shot a warning shot in self defense, after which, officers opened fire.
The police fired 32 rounds, multiple of which hit Taylor. She was pronounced dead at the scene. The raid on her and Walker’s apartment was a botched operation: neither Taylor nor Walker were involved in buying or selling drugs.
Last September, a grand jury indicted Brett Hankison, a former Louisville detective who was involved in the raid. He was charged with wanton endangerment, which is essentially reckless endangerment of other individuals. Hankison received the charge because the 10 shots he fired passed through Taylor’s apartment walls and entered her neighbor’s apartment. One of the officers that shot Taylor, Detective Myles Cosgrove, and Detective Joshua Jaynes, who prepared the search warrant for the raid, were fired on 5 Jan. The Justice Department announced in April that it would investigate the Louisville police and local county government. That investigation is on-going. No charges were brought for Taylor’s shooting and subsequent death.
Taylor’s family filed a wrongful death lawsuit, and the Louisville Metro Government agreed to pay the family 12 million dollars (£9.4m) and agreed to a series of police reforms. Hopefully those reforms help change police behavior and save innocent Black lives.
Visit Fight For Breonna to learn more about supporting Breonna Taylor’s family, and the changes they’re advocating for in Louisville and beyond.
What happened to Philando Castile was eerily similar to what happened to Daunte Wright. On 6 July 2016, Castile was driving his girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds and her four-year-old daughter when he was pulled over as part of a traffic stop in a Saint Paul, Minnesota suburb. Police officers Jeronimo Yanez and Joseph Kauser pulled over Castile because they thought he looked like a robbery suspect.
Seconds after Castile informed Officer Yanez—who approached the vehicle from the driver’s side, while Kauser approached it from the passenger’s side—that he had a legal firearm, Yanez fired seven shots, five of which hit Castile. Two shots pierced his heart. Reynolds captured the immediate aftermath of the shooting on Facebook Live. The video shows Castile slumped over and moaning, with blood all over his left arm and side. Castile died 30 minutes after the shooting in the hospital.
Office Yanez was charged with second-degree manslaughter, and after a five-day trial, was acquitted. The jury initially voted 10-2 in Yanez’s favour, but later all 12 jurors chose to acquit Yanez. Only two jurors were Black. The City of Saint Paul agreed to pay Castile’s mother a 3 million dollar (£2.1m) settlement.
Diamond Reynolds is honouring Castile’s memory by fighting for families of Black people killed by the police. She created Black Love Twin Cities LLC, which provides resources to local communities that help women and single mothers who have experienced similar loss.
The killings described above are a small fraction of the Black people who have lost their lives at the hands of law enforcement. There’s Eric Garner, Rayshard Brooks, Atatiana Jefferson, Aura Rosser, Ma’Khia Bryant, Ahmaud Arbery, Adam Toledo, Sandra Bland, Michael Brown—the list goes on. Their lives, not just their deaths, matter too.
I was particularly haunted by Breonna Taylor’s death. She was my age when she died. She was also an EMT and first responder in Louisville. Taylor rubbed elbows with law enforcement in her work, and like the people who killed her, her mantra was to protect and serve. She saved so many lives throughout her life, and I can’t help but think about how many more lives she could have saved if hers was not taken away from her.
In the past year, what has brought me a drop of comfort is people’s willingness to listen to conversations they’ve never had before. But so much more needs to be done. "It’s a good step, but we need to keep moving forward and turn that openness into action.” says Sophie Williams, speaker and author of Anti-Racist Ally and Millennial Black when I asked her what needs to happen next. She says people need to transform their allyship from a “passive to an active state,” which includes taking a look outward and inward. “Look at your own companies' hiring practices,” she explains, referring to diversity issues across sectors. “Look at your own bias. Look at your own spending habits. Giving your money to businesses that are Black in the global majority is a meaningful way to uplift the Black community.”
Conversations need to keep happening. Allies need to pay attention and listen, not just during the rise of violence against racial groups. We need to keep talking about Asian lives post the anti-Asian hate movement we’re seeing in the news and social media right now. We need to keep talking about dismantling anti-Semitism, even after news cycles move on from covering the attacks happening around the world. At the end of the day, we need to keep talking and stay talking about these realities, no matter how uncomfortable those conversations are.
Remembering the lives lost over the years is not enough. Short term actions, like posting black squares on social media or donating to organisations isn’t enough. Saying their names is not going to reform an inherently racist system that allows racial violence. Real change will come from continued, meaningful, and long-term action. That’s the only way to protect our lives and heal.
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