Imagine dying from traumatic asphyxiation. No, actually imagine it.

Cause of death: Cardiopulmonary arrest complicating law enforcement subdual, restraint, and neck compression.

Hennepin County Medical Examiner Press Release Report on the death of George Floyd

I want you to do an exercise with me. Trust me, it’ll be fun.

First, find your carotid artery. It should be easy – it’s where your gym teacher used to tell you to check your pulse after running around the track five times (you know, on the side of your neck just below your chin). Make sure you can feel your heartbeat. What you’re actually feeling is the carotid sinus, just before the artery branches to supply blood separately to the brain and the face.

Now, press gently into this nodule. You should feel your heartbeat a little stronger; you might feel a little uncomfortable. You’re starting to restrict blood flow to the brain and face now.

Try pressing a little harder; see how deep you’re willing to press into this artery before you can’t take it anymore. You might start to feel a pain in your chin as you affect nerves; you might start to feel a little light-headed, even.

Personally, I couldn’t take it for more than a few seconds.

Now imagine not a finger, but a knee, in that same spot. Imagine not a gentle pressure, but the weight of an adult male pressing into that artery. Try, if you can, imagining that this pressure is sustained for eight minutes. Imagine, if you can, the panic you might feel, the desperation, the utter despair as you realize that something is deeply, terribly wrong inside your body, as your sight narrows to a tunnel and eventually fades out, and yet you can still hear the people screaming around you to let you go.

There were two independent autopsies performed on the corpse of George Floyd; one by the county medical examiner, and one privately commissioned by his family. The above quote is the lighter of the two findings; the independent report found he “sustained pressure on the right side of Floyd’s carotid artery impeded blood flow to the brain, and weight on his back impeded his ability to breathe.” It also found he died at the scene, and not in the ER as the official report suggests.

With all that has happened since the death of George Floyd, the protests, the riots, the sustained militaristic police brutality and the despair that is sweeping the country, the one thing I haven’t to any great extent is a sense of compassion, of understanding, of the last eight minutes of George Floyd’s life.

You see, it’s easy to understand a dead person. They’re a corpse, a body, a bunch of dead flesh. They’re a thing. It’s also easy to understand a living person – we interact with them, they can speak, talk, love and laugh and cry.

But the in-between is glossed over. Nobody likes to think about the process of death, what it must feel like, what thoughts go through your head as you fade from the world. It’s a difficult thing to imagine, of course, because most people who pass through that experience don’t come back to tell us about it.

George Floyd didn’t come back. He died on the streets of Minneapolis in handcuffs with another man on his back, a knee in his neck. I wonder what he was thinking as he died. I wonder if he thought about his family, and whether he would ever see them again. I wonder if he thought to himself, I can’t believe this is happening. I can’t believe I’m dying.

But there’s one thing I don’t wonder about. I don’t wonder whether he saw himself dying with his face pressed into the pavement and his chest and throat crushed. I don’t wonder if he was at peace with his death. I don’t wonder if he would rather have died as an old man, in his bed, surrounded by his family and loved ones.

Please – I know it’s difficult, but try to imagine what his death must have felt like. Not to the bystanders – not to the living left. To him. He was a person, a human, a living life that was violently and slowly extinguished, and I can’t stop thinking about what his last moments in this world must have felt like.

No one deserves to die like that. No one should be treated so cruelly by another human being. But most of all, no black person should have to fear that this could happen to them for no other reason than because they are black. No black person should have these thoughts running through their heads simply because of the color of their skin.

George Floyd’s death is tragic, yes; but it is also a cruel, horrific, unimaginably painful way to die, and the person who caused his death might have been better served putting a bullet in his head. And the people responsible are far more than Derek Chauvin who killed him. They are the people who allowed this country to get to the point where such a thing could happen at all. They the leaders, the people in power who continuously turn a blind eye and tell us that they deserved to die, that they had it coming, that they shouldn’t have resisted … you know the story.

Not only did George Floyd not deserve to die, he most certainly did not deserve to die so horrifically. Please – celebrate his life, remember his death, and do anything and everything you can to ensure no black person ever suffers so cruel a death again.

We’re Only Worth Who We Know

I’d never heard of Amie Harwick before today. I’d only vaguely paid attention to the name Drew Carey. I certainly wouldn’t have been able to identify them, or said what they were known for. A friend posted on Facebook this morning about her death, and it was odd because the headline spoke of her as the latter’s ex-fiancée. It was hard for me to understand why I should care about the ex-fiancée of a second-tier celebrity I barely knew.

I had to do some digging to discover that Amie Harwick is a therapist in Hollywood, primarily focused on sex and relationships. She had helped a great number of people with overcoming abuse and difficult mental health issues, and was apparently killed by a former boyfriend, Gareth Pursehouse, against whom she had had a restraining order.

It seems to have been a senseless, tragic death, but the fact is I only know about it because of a tangential connection to someone the media thinks people care about. If she hadn’t once been engaged to Drew Carey, it would have been a second-tier back page new article, or possibly just an obituary.

Of course, people die every day. People are murdered, commit suicide, die of old age … it’s literally part of the world, and part of life. It isn’t possible to be as upset about the death of a stranger as it is about the death of a loved one. But, when someone with a greater sphere of influence dies, there are naturally a wider range of people who are affected by it. Think of when Robin Williams died, or more recently, Kobe Bryant. Their families were presumably devastated, but so was the world.

It seems that the greatest celebrities in the world – those with the greatest influence over strangers they’ve never met – are entertainers. Perhaps it makes sense that we mourn our entertainers the most; after all, they provide us escape from the pain of the world around us. But when someone who truly did the world good, who made life better for other people through their dedication and work, it seems unfair that they aren’t mourned for their work, but rather for who they were in relation to others who were better known than they were.

What’s particularly upsetting is that most new outlets seem not to have even bothered to reference who she was; only who she knew. Her worth to the media was in her relationship to a comedian – an entertainer. Not even an active relationship – a past one.

It’s enough to make me wonder – who am I? Am I myself, a person of my own with my own virtues and values? Am I just a husband? Am I a father? What is it that defines me?

I can’t pretend to have answers to these questions – they’re going to be different for every individual, of course. But it just seems sad to me to only be known as an attachment to some other person, as if you were owned by them, a part of them, and not a whole person of your own. And this sadness only enhances the tragedy of death, because it devalues who the person was in life.

Amie Harwick was a therapist, a child, and adult, and a whole person of her own. She deserves to be mourned for her own death, and not someone else’s loss.

The Mind of Violence

I wish I could say this was a happy post. I wish I had good tidings to bear, or that perhaps I could recount the extensive traveling I’ve done in the past week, from Toronto to the Grand Canyon. I wish I could talk about anything other than what I’m going to.

But I can’t. This week there were three mass shootings in the United States: Gilroy, Dayton, and El Paso. Between them, at least thirty-two people were killed. Coincidentally, it marks the thirty-second shooting this year in which at least three people died. For all I know, by the time you read this there will have been another.

The worst part, though, is not the shootings. It’s not the deaths. The worst part – of which I’m guilty myself – is the crass, apathetic reaction of the country, the total lack of surprise, and the disaffection that accompanies these tragedies. Even as it crossed my newsfeed, I couldn’t stop my own thoughts: “Guess it happened again.”

I just kind of switched off. I didn’t want to, couldn’t, internalize yet another instance of senseless violence, of brutal slayings and now-childless parents. I couldn’t react in horror … because there was no horror left.

This kind of violence has become so frequent and commonplace that I’ve started to become completely desensitized to it. It’s just part of the background of living in the United States. Of course, many of us continue to go about our days, saying it could never happen to us, but the truth is that the odds are stacking against us, and one day it will be you under fire at a concert, or a Home Depot, or at your school.

But until that day comes, we all just continue to sit back, watch it happen, and condemn the shooters on one hand whilst continuing to silently approve the system that allows these things to happen at all.

By system, of course, I don’t only mean the ease-of-availability of firearms, or the payouts to the NRA, or the heavy-handed police brutality that leads to so many unnecessary deaths; it also includes the indoctrination that violence is a part of free speech; it includes the incessantly hypocritical reactions from politicians and leaders; it includes the simple fact that no other developed nation has anything close to the level of outright violence that has become second-nature to our country.

Violence has become something less than a tragedy; human life commoditized. It’s one thing to suggest that society is desensitized to violence through TV and popular media – realistically, I think most people are aware enough to know that TV violence is not a suggestion that such things are okay. It’s the frequency of real-world violence that desensitizes the masses to just how horrific such things actually are. And when we look at the culprits of the most recent mass shootings, none of them were ‘foreigners’, or ‘immigrants’ (I use these terms loosely, as we are all immigrants at some point or another) – there were young, disaffected white men who somehow came to believe that it was within their right to end the lives of other people.

It’s difficult to learn why these people do such things, as they are often killed themselves during their rampages. We talk to their families, interview their friends, and learn that they were ‘good people’, and that ‘no one suspected a thing’.

I call bullshit.

There are a lot of angry people in the world, and a lot of reasons to be angry. I get it. I’ve been filled with fury, with anger and with hate at times in my life. I’ve sought to place blame on everyone other than myself. I’ll readily admit that I’m far from a perfect member of society, even if I can’t imagine hating so much that I’d want to actually kill other people. The mind of violence is hard to understand.

But the biggest problem is that these people – disgruntled, prone-to-violence, hate-filled people – are allowed to purchase weapons whose sole purpose is to kill other humans. A lot of people argue that guns don’t kill people, people kill people – but people without guns kill far fewer people than those armed with them. Perhaps we can’t change how or why these people think the way they do, but there’s absolutely no reason we can’t stop them from accessing devices intended to end life.

Weapons of any kind are a holdover from a medieval culture where feudality and territorialism were the law; when if you didn’t have a sword or an axe, your neighbor might steal your sheep and murder your family.

Aren’t we past those days?

Aren’t we supposed to be living in an enlightened society, one where understanding and tolerance are meant to be the gold standard to which we aspire? If so, then what purpose do weapons serve at all? I can understand the desire to hunt, the desire to kill food for yourself – there’s a deep-rooted instinct in some of us to see and taste the blood of a fresh kill. But there is no reason in the world to need to kill another human being – even under threat, if that person has no weapon to threaten you with, you have no reason to kill them in self-defense.

The worst of it is the people marauding around proclaiming weapons as a part of free speech – that taking away their weapons takes away their freedom.

Again – I call bullshit.

We live in a society with tens of thousands of rules – laws, as they’re called – imposed upon us. These laws are entirely arbitrary, save for the concept that by enforcing these laws, we create for ourselves a safer, more tolerant and livable society. I’m not allowed to drive faster than 65mph on the highway – if I do, I get punished. I’m not allowed to steal from my neighbor’s house – again, I would be punished.

So then why do we continue to provide access to things that allow us to break the laws imposed upon us by our society? Why do we make cars that can drive at 130mph? Why do we sell lock-picking kits, when any conceivable use for them is illegal? And why on earth do we sell handguns and automatic rifles when anything you could do with them is against the law?

Free speech can only extend so far. It cannot be allowed to extend to hate speech; it cannot be allowed to extend to discrimination and bigotry. And it cannot be used as an excuse to provide access to dangerous, violent weapons. It isn’t a violation of your freedom to take away your guns; it’s a violation of our human rights to allow you to keep them.

Tell me I’m wrong.