He couldn’t breathe


By Terri Lynn Oldham House

We had never heard of George Floyd before last week. 

He was murdered on Memorial Day.

Videos of the incident surrounding his death show him lying facedown on a Minneapolis street pleading to breathe while a police officer put his knee on the side of Floyd’s neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds. 

It has been reported that for the last 2 minutes and 53 seconds of that time, Floyd was unresponsive. 

Another officer held Floyd’s legs while a third officer held his back and another officer prevented intervention from a bystander.

You could hear Floyd saying, “I can’t breathe.”

Watching the video took our breath away. We had to turn our head. We couldn’t bear to watch.

His death was ruled a homicide. 

Floyd is an African-American. 

The officer who is charged with second-degree murder in Floyd’s death is white. 

The other three officers have been charged with aiding and abetting murder in the death of Floyd.

Demonstrations and protests began the day after Floyd’s passing. 

While some of the protests were peaceful, others turned into destructive riots with stores looted and set on fire, dumpsters set on fire, standoffs and clashes between law enforcement and demonstrators, tear gas fired at protesters and chaos in the streets of cities and towns throughout the United States. 

The 3rd Precinct building of the Minneapolis Police Department was torched and burned. 

The National Guard was called in to provide assistance in communities across the nation.

Reporters were arrested while just doing their job in reporting the news by covering the demonstrations.

The murder of Floyd was unnecessary and wrong.

The fires, destruction and looting were unnecessary and wrong. 

Arresting reporters was unnecessary and wrong.

This nation has witnessed some very dark and unsettling days of unrest since Floyd’s death. 

However, in the days that followed, we have also witnessed peaceful demonstrations that took our breath away and made us weep.

We watched as hundreds of people protesting police brutality laid facedown in silence for 8 minutes and 46 seconds at the Colorado Capitol in a powerful display depicting the final moments of Floyd’s life. 

Demonstrators displayed signs with meaningful messages.

“Stop killing us.” 

“I can’t breathe.” 

“Black lives matter.”

“Justice will not be served until those who are unaffected are as outraged as those who are.”

The most powerful display we watched happened in Flint, Mich., where Genesee County Sheriff Chris Swanson showed the world what true leadership and compassion for mankind can accomplish. 

A video shows Swanson taking off his helmet and engaging a group of protesters in conversation.

“We want to be with y’all for real. I took my helmet off, laid the batons down. We want to make this a parade, not a protest. These cops love you. That cop over there hugs people. So, you tell us what you need,” Swanson said.

The crowd shouted for him to “Walk with us.”

And, he did just that.

In a show of solidarity, Swanson joined the protesters, arm in arm, in a peaceful march. 

It was a parade of support for mankind.

Here at home, we talked to Police Chief William Rockensock about Floyd’s death. He told us about the Pagosa Springs Police Department’s code of ethics, which he immediately forwarded to us:

“As a law enforcement officer, my fundamental duty is to serve the community; to safeguard lives and property; to protect the innocent against deception, the weak against oppression or intimidation and the peaceful against abuse or disorder; and to respect the constitutional rights of all to liberty, equality and justice.”

The code also reads, “I will never act officiously or permit personal feelings, prejudices, political beliefs, aspirations, animosities or friendships to influence my decisions. With no compromise for crime and with relentless prosecution of criminals, I will enforce the law courteously and appropriately without fear or favor, malice or ill will, never employing unnecessary force or abuse and never accepting gratuities.

“I recognize the badge of my office as a symbol of public faith, and I accept it as a public trust to be held so long as I am true to the ethics of police service. I will never engage in acts of corruption or bribery, nor will I condone such acts by other police officers. I will cooperate with all legally authorized agencies and their representatives in the pursuit of justice.”

Rockensock also shared his department’s mission statement: “The mission of the Pagosa Springs Police Department shall be to promote a partnership between the community, businesses, government and law enforcement designed to reduce crime and improve the overall quality of life.

“We recognize that effective law enforcement and the prevention of crimes are achieved by establishing a professional and trusting relationship with our community.

“The Pagosa Springs Police Department is committed to engaging the community through the exchange of ideas and problem solving techniques, and by strengthening and establishing new partnerships in the community. The Department is committed to providing a safe and secure community and to preserve the quality of life for all.”

It is tragic that on Memorial Day four police officers in Minneapolis didn’t draw on their department’s code of ethics and mission statement. If they had, we believe Floyd would be breathing today.

It has become clear that over the days since Floyd’s murder, law enforcement officers who have stood in solidarity with and embraced those impacted by racism and inequality are the ones who will restore peace and make this world a better place.