I Can’t Breathe

“I Can’t Breathe” • Composite Photograph • 2016. Sources: Trailer “Do the Right Thing,” YouTube video by Ramsey Orta published by NY Daily News, news footage Ferguson, MO, protests
“I Can’t Breathe” • Composite Photograph • 2016

You don’t get recognized and rewarded for helping a homeless person get permanent housing, but you get recognized for arresting them again and again and again.”
—Unnamed New York City Police Captain, New York Times Magazine


Slave patrols and Night Watches, which later became modern police departments, were both designed to control the behaviors of minorities.”
A Brief History of Slavery and the Origins of American Policing, Victor E. Kappeler, Ph.D.,
Associate Dean, School of Justice Studies, Eastern Kentucky University

Sources: Trailer “Do the Right Thing,” YouTube video by Ramsey Orta published by NY Daily News, news footage Ferguson, MO, protests

Additional Comments

In a case of life imitating art, New York Police Officer Daniel Pantaleo choked Eric Garner to death in 2014 in an unprovoked assault. The event was recorded on video. Two years after Spike Lee’s 1989 film “Do the Right Thing” which depicted the choking death of a fictional character, New York City banned use of the chokehold by police.

The city paid Garner’s family nearly $6 million to settle a wrongful death suit. The only person present the day Garner was killed to have been criminally prosecuted was Ramsay Orta, who recorded the incident. He claims continued harassment by the NYPD since then.

Garner was a disabled man who came to the attention of cops that day after breaking up a street fight. He had previously had frequent run-ins with cops for very minor offenses, like selling loose cigarettes. He loudly complained about continual harassment just before police killed him.

Big protests demanded the prosecution of

Panteleo. Many complained the New York District Attorney had manipulated the grand jury into deciding not to hand down an indictment.

Scenes from protests against brutal and discriminatory policing methods in Ferguson, MO, are also woven into the piece. Among the images is a young person fleeing tear gas and another of a line of cops in formation on the main artery during protests.

Behind the Ferguson explosion was not only the 2014 shooting death of Michael Brown but decades of systematic harassment and fining of the largely Black working-class population to raise revenue — reinforcing the already desperate situations many face. The Ferguson city council recently voted down a U. S. Justice Department brokered a deal to end the institutionalized racist shakedown.

Black Lives Matter!