Opinion: How Many More Names?

Protest sign from a peaceful march held in Kitchener on June 3rd. Photo by Ahmet Yildirim.

The first thing I saw when I opened my phone on the afternoon of Thursday, May 28th was a video of a man who was on the ground with a police officer’s knee to his neck. I didn’t even know his name. My eyeballs stayed glued to the screen. It replayed about three or four times before I could pull my eyes away. 

How many times am I going to have to watch someone of the same skin colour as me, struggle under a police officer’s hands or in this case, a knee?

In the video, he said, “I can’t breathe.”

I couldn’t either. I started to feel nauseous, and then I felt nothing. 

I found out about the death of George Floyd three days after he was killed. I hadn’t checked my social media for a couple of days. It was my own fault for not knowing sooner. I was already behind. My friends were quick to say his name, and I couldn’t say it because it hurt. I couldn’t imagine what his family was going through, but I knew the world was hurting with them.

Many would have seen the video and not been able to watch the whole thing through because it was inhuman of someone to treat another human being that way. I couldn’t watch it again because I saw myself in that video. I saw my 12 year old brother, my mother, my father, uncles, aunts, cousins, friends. It was a loop in my head. 

I don’t know how many more times I can see the video in my head.

That night, when I went to sleep, I dreamt that I was face to face with death, and the face of death was a police officer’s. I couldn’t sleep the days after that. I didn’t know how much it affected me until I realized it was the only thing I was thinking about.

I tried to help support the movement along with my friends by speaking up, but it began to feel like I wasn’t doing enough like my friends were. They were so confident, addressing their anger and how upset they were about the continuous racism and violence against black people, but I felt that their words were louder than mine. I was holding myself back from really speaking up about how I felt because I was scared.

I’ve taken various steps to educate myself, and others, on issues within the black community, I have attended conferences and events directed for black youth, and as the days go by I am learning more everyday. When things like this happen it hits so close to home. Like the learning has prepared me for those moments, but this time, I felt paralyzed.

So many names that have been turned into a hashtag, and I fear I will never know the names of all of them. I at least owe it to them to continue saying their names but I can’t speak. George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Emmet Till, Ahmed Aubrey, Botham Jean, Trayvon Martin, and Eric Garner. How many more names will I have to type into my search bar?

More scrolling through my feed, and I’m learning more names that I’ve not heard of before. 

Dreasjon Read, Michael Brown, Terence Crutcher, Rodney King, Freddie Gray, Sean Bell, Oscar Grant, and countless others I still have yet to discover. Seems like it’s an endless loop I can’t get out of.

It’s a lot for me to handle, almost too much, but it’s the least I can do: learn their stories and their names. I put my phone down just to turn the television on to see violence all over my screen. I’m not trying to run from it, so I don’t look away this time. Lives that have been stripped away, lives that are no longer being lived, by innocent people, and I’m too helpless to do anything. My heart breaks, and it stays broken.

How many more innocent people are going to lose their lives?

How long until my name becomes a hashtag?