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February 17, 2015

“I can't breathe”

By Arthur Kane Scott

In July 2014, Eric Garner, an asthmatic, died from a choke hold at the hands of the police. As he was forced to the ground he called out “I can’t breathe,” and died. Even though the Staten Island medical examiner ruled it a homicide, a special grand jury refused to indict the officer responsible.Tragicallythe death was over selling cigarettes.

The deeper issue, however, was the prevailing racism that exist in America against people of color, but in particular African Americans. This attitude permeates key institutions dedicated to preserving justice including law enforcements, education, and health.“I can’t breathe” soon gained traction as a mantra for global injustice with many individuals and organizations donning shirts with Garner’s statement “I can’t breathe” boldly printed on them.

I have randomly developed a global list and what strikes me most is the universality ofsituations where the slogan “I can’t breathe” persists.  It’s an existential reality for many including Mother Earth, women, children, the homeless, the poor, peoples of color, the elderly.

As frightening the list may be, it hardly scratches the surface. It raises the moral issue of whatneeds to be done, and why humanity remains so slow to respond by continuing to ignore the deep suffering of so many is puzzling.

It brings a tear to my eye.

A major factor is greed and the prevailing materialism of this era. New Oxfam reports that only 1 % of the world’s population now controls half of its wealth.

As you look at the list, you might wish to include individual examples, both inner/external. At different times all are confronted with challenges in which “We can’t breathe” prevails. These challenges run the gamut: loss of a loved one/sweetheart/friend, serious illness, job boredom, and loneliness.

Maybe the answer to this global existential crisis lies in the ancient truth that regardless of how different we appearto be, there is indeed an underlying Unity that ties us together proclaiming: “You thought yourself small but within you is the entire universe.” Recovering this truth would allow us and the world “to breathe” once again in abundance in which the need of the many would take precedence over the greed of the few.


It`s what the poor of the world cry every day

It’s what sexually abused women scream out

It’s what black Americans march against

It’s what Syrians say as they flee from their homes

It’s what the middle class experiences with homes underwater and stagnant wages

It’s what Native Americans have endured for centuries

It’s the scream of Palestinians in Israel and the West Bank

It’s the cry of Mother Earth over man’s continued indifference to Climate Change

It’s the primeval sound of drug addicts and communities held captive by drug cartels

It’s why the world oceans and sea life are disappearing

It’s what prisoners say every day about a broken justice system

It’s what Americans feel about Wall Street, banking institutions and lawyers

It’s a metaphor for a Congress that represents the rich and has seemingly lost itsmandate of representing the people

It’s a pall over abortion clinics where women are denied their constitutional rights

It’s the sound of women throughout the world who are refused the opportunity of education

It’s the voice of millions of refugees throughout the world seeking a better life

It’s PTSD experienced by American soldiers coming home from war

It’s the pathos of the world’s homeless living on less than a dollar a day

It’s the wail of Palestinians gasping for freedom in country ironically founded on escaping the Holocaust

It’s the banner of Chinese pro-democratic students in Hong Kong

It’s the intrusiveness of intelligences agencies: Homeland Security, FBI, CIA,and National Security Agency.

It’s the angst over growing militarization of civilian police fed by a bloated Pentagon

It’s the yearning voice of Saudi women for freedom in a conservative milieu

It’s the protest against bullying in all its form

It’s the core lyric of inequality, power, and domination and prejudice

It’s the global shock of horror over the ISIS executions

It’s what innocent communities cry when hearing the sound of drones

It’s the plea of old and young to stop the mayhem in eastern Ukraine

It’s the sound of Latino Dreamers and their families

It’s the scream of young girls in the hands of Boko Haram

It’s the despair felt by 22 American vets who commit suicide every day

It’s the hidden poetics of “Blacks lives matter;” “Muslims lives matter” “All life matters”

It’s the gasp of the remaining 880 Mountain Gorillas left in the world

It’s the cry of the world oceans drowning in plastics

Arthur Kane Scott is Professor of Humanities and Cultural Studies at the Dominican University of California and Fellow of American Institute of International Studies.