Waiting to Exhale

(For Eric Garner, John Crawford, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice and numerous others)



Over the past few days, weeks, and months there have been eloquent words spoken, passionate poems and prose written, and thoughtful commentaries and reflections offered about the righteous rage, indignant indifference, fear, sadness and ambivalence that black folk and allies have felt as we have literally fought for the dignity and recognition that black lives have significance.  Every time I hear, see or read #blacklivesmatter, I am simultaneously affirmed and disgusted.  Affirmed at the reckoning and recognition of my life as important in the midst of a system that would render my life as a black person without meaning or value.  Disgusted that because of my skin color it is necessary to announce the relevance and audacity of my existence.


The non-indictment of Daniel Panteleo, the police officer who choked Eric Garner to death on Staten Island, which came only 9 days after a non-indictment of Darren Wilson for the shooting death of Michael Brown, and 69 days after the nonindictment of Sean Williams for the death of John Crawford, and 11 days after 12 year old Tamir Rice was murdered by Tim Loehmann, an officer who had been previously sanctioned for deficient performance on his previous job, has left many of us speechless and without words.  I struggle for words which feel inadequate because we have been throwing words at injustice for months and words alone have not brought us justice or peace.  Words alone don’t seem to do the work that needs to be done.  Words offer a semblance of resolution, an illusion of recognition, but words, including the last words spoken by the victims, does little more than haunt us, little more than remind us that words feel empty when there is no action.  This piece is my attempt to us my words to do something.  This is also my attempt to use words to demonstrate empathy.  In the midst of injustice and oppression…how long can you hold your breath?


Folk have been gathering and strategizing and staging die-ins and public peaceful protests and panels and lectures and conversations, saying words, and writing words, and living words as a testimony of black life and fortitude.  The wives, parents, grandparents, friends, lovers, children, communities left behind after these loses deserve justice.  They require it.  We demand it.  We can’t get tired.  We can’t get complacent. We have to revel in discomfort brought on by listening to testimonies, wrestling with privilege, matching good intentions with some kind of effort to keep things going.  The possibility of unchecked white privilege + the loss of black lives with no consequence becoming the new normal puts us all at risk.


As Crunktastic shared on a panel hosted by NYU last night, “it feels like we are going backwards since the death of Trayvon Martin” because at least in that case there was a trial (even if there was no justice).


I find myself holding my breath in moments when I am faced with yet another case of white supremacy at work,

I hold my breath at the dehumanization of black bodies,

I hold my breath at the images of lifeless black boys and men on public streets,

I hold my breath knowing that blackgirls and women are not exempt from violence and death at the hands of anti-black racism,

I hold my breath reading the names of blackgirls and women who have lost their lives to police violence,

I hold my breath because trans* folk are uniquely vulnerable and uniquely targeted because of their different difference

I hold my breath when my black male cousin, 20 years old and in college, does not immediately pick up the phone

I hold my breath reading racist reactions to state sanctioned murder and misperceptions of what we see/what we know in the cases where there is visual evidence

I hold my breath when I see images of Eric Garner, Mike Brown, Tamir Rice, and John Crawford.  When I look at them I see the faces of black boys and men who deserved to live.  When white racism looks at those same faces it sees aggressive thugs who deserved to die.

Eric Garner's Last Words
A transcript of Eric Garner’s last words


This can’t keep happening.


This keeps happening.

I can’t breathe.

I hold my breath.

Inhale and hold yours.

Now Wait.

Innocence is never presumed for black bodies

Instead there is suspicion of wrongdoing

Perversion of humanity

Assumption of delinquency


People want to justify so-called justice that is more wrong than right

And never on the right side of the people

Who are not white

People who are told to


for the outcome to come

out on their side

and the side of those they have lost.

We have heard this before

and we cannot afford to


because black bodies dying because of unchecked, possibly unconscious racism is becoming commonplace

Trayvon was not the first

Tamir will not be the last

If you listen you can hear them calling and chanting

for justice

If you listen you can hear them begging

for their life


Perpetrators of violence against black bodies and their apologists suggest that black men, particularly those who are not small

That black boys, particularly those who are not perfect

are dangerous, inhuman, suprahuman, an ‘it’


There is no benefit of the doubt for black boys and men

or blackwomen and girls


It doesn’t matter if there are eye witnesses or video evidence

Black bodies are not safe in public spaces

Institutionalized racism will never protect us

Silence will never protect us

Some people seem to be intentionally missing the message

We can’t breathe.

We are holding our breath.


We watched them take their last breath

Speak their last words

which haunt us like black ghosts

Reminding us that they “can’t breathe,” that “it’s not real,” that they don’t want to die,

They shouldn’t die

But racism is too thick to push through your lungs

And it tastes like bile on the tongue

And we can’t breathe



Eric Garner was choked to death in the street

July 17, 2014, Staten Island, NY




John Crawford was shot dead in Walmart.

August 5, 2014, Beavercreek, OH




Mike Brown was shot dead in the street

August 9, 2014, Ferguson, MO




Tamir Rice was shot dead in the park.

November 22, 2014, Cleveland, OH




This is a call to consciousness.  A call to action.  A cause to move/ment.

Folk are hurting. People are tired. Families are missing


that can’t be replaced



to exhale, and breathe, and

believe in a system of justice that is just not for us


Our words could not save them.  Our words can possibly save us.

Please use what you have (your voice, your words, your body, your influence, your time, your money, your energy) to push this movement forward.  We’ve held our breath for too long.






4 thoughts on “Waiting to Exhale

  1. I haven’t had the words to express my feelings. Nor do I know if I have them now but reading this helped bring a lot of my thoughts to light. Thank you for using your gift so eloquently.

    1. I have been feeling the same. I tried to have a conversation the other day with a white friend….as much as I love them they were just not present to understanding. I had to halt the conversation. I started to get all into my feelings. Which I owned and communicated.

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