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Thursday, December 08, 2022

George Floyd’s Life and Death | Free press – culture

The biography “I can’t breathe” reconstructs the life of George Floyds in the deeply rooted racism of the USA. Factual and ruthless.

His face is emblazoned on countless posters, murals, graffiti and T-shirts around the world, his name is just as well known as his pleading words in his agony: “I can’t breathe!”. George Floyd is not a saint. But it has become a symbol that in the United States and elsewhere, the difference between skin color still makes a sometimes deadly difference. Floyd died on May 25, 2020 because Derek Chauvin, a white police officer who has repeatedly attracted attention for disproportionate violence and racism, knelt on his neck for nine minutes and 29 seconds. A cellphone video of the crime sparked protests around the world, and Chauvin was sentenced to over 20 years in prison.

“I can’t breathe” is now the tragic title of the first extensive book about George Floyd, which is only inadequately described as a biography. On more than 500 pages, the award-winning “Washington Post” journalists Robert Samuels and Toluse Olorunnipa reconstruct larger contexts and reveal the deep-seated system of racism that has dominated the United States in particular for centuries. The basis of the report rich in facts and connections is more than 400 interviews with relatives, friends and companions of Floyd, scientists, activists, officials and people from Chauvin’s environment. The arc is drawn from Floyd’s great-great-great-grandparents in the 19th century during the days of slavery to the protests after his death and Chauvin’s conviction. Floyd’s last days are meticulously reconstructed, as is the act itself. There are also reflections on Chauvin’s police career, in which his racist nature could always flourish, and various historical digressions and analogies. The book makes an important contribution here, because it tells history, especially of the 20th and 21st centuries, as ruthlessly as it is factually from a black perspective, and very specifically shows the “disadvantage of skin color”.

On the one hand, “I can’t breathe” clearly shows its typical US reportage tone, in which the journalists themselves on their journey are in view at the beginning and which is always driven by narratively linking the events into an exciting story, almost like a novel . Many of the structures described are also related to specific characteristics of the system and the history of the USA. On the other hand, much of this can also be transferred to local conditions, and the tone of the book has an intensity that goes beyond that of a non-fiction book. Of course, “I can’t breathe” is also a bit of a manifesto that screams “Black lives matter”. Actually a simple, self-evident demand for equal rights, which cynically gains its relevance simply because some still sense a threat in it.

In the center, Samuels and Olorunnipa use the key questions “Who was George Floyd? And what was it like living in his America?” to follow Floyd’s various stations in life, which were repeatedly faced with obstacles. They paint a picture of him as someone who is humorous and polite, always social, caring and with a strong sense of family, but whose life keeps getting off track. He goes through typical poverty traps and systematic disadvantages.

A tragic finding of the book: George Floyd is only an example of countless lives, also in terms of the specific type of death. Most of them go unpunished, only Floyd could be seen live.

Although equal rights were fought for in official legislation, which was difficult and lengthy, racism shapes the everyday reality of countless people, not only in the USA.

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