The death in Minneapolis this week of George Floyd, an unarmed 46-year-old black man killed by a white police officer—who pressed his knee into Floyd’s neck for almost nine minutes while Floyd yelled that he couldn’t breathe—has sparked outrage around the country and violent protests, as well widespread looting, in Minneapolis.
The policeman, later identified as Derek Chauvin, and the three other officers on the scene have since been fired, and Floyd’s family has called for them to face murder charges. At a Tuesday morning press conference, held after a gruesome video of Floyd’s death had gone viral, Minneapolis mayor Jacob Frey spoke bluntly about what had happened in his city. “Being black in America should not be a death sentence,” Frey said. “What we saw is horrible, completely and utterly messed up.” (At a Thursday press conference, Frey called the protests “understandable,” saying, “What we’ve seen over the last two days…is the result of so much built-up anger and sadness. Anger and sadness that has been ingrained in our black community, not just because of five minutes of horror but 400 years.” He added: “If you’re feeling that sadness and that anger, it’s not only understandable, it’s right.”)
But while the death of Floyd is indeed “horrible,” it is also far from unique. This latest tragedy came three months after Ahmaud Arbery was shot and killed by two white men (one a former police officer) while on a jog in his southeastern Georgia neighborhood, as well as two months after the death of Breonna Taylor, shot at least eight times by police officers who had attempted to enter her Louisville apartment without announcing themselves.
It has also surfaced a familiar image, one that has now been given a powerful new meaning.
Yesterday, LeBron James took to social media to share striking side-by-side images: one of Chauvin kneeling on Floyd’s neck and the other of Colin Kaepernick kneeling during the national anthem in 2016. (Kaepernick has stated that he knelt in protest of racial inequality and police brutality.) “This…Is Why” appears above the images in the now viral social media post. When James captioned the composite on his Instagram and Twitter feeds: “Do you understand NOW!!??!!?? Or is it still blurred to you??”
Kaepernick’s protest was initially met with criticism; many also didn’t see the connection between taking a knee during the national anthem in front of millions of viewers and the unjust killings of black men and women in the U.S. at the hands of law enforcement. It also apparently ended Kaepernick’s football career: Not a single NFL team has signed the quarterback since the San Francisco 49ers released him after the 2016 season. In 2017, the New York Times, in an admiring profile, called him “the most polarizing figure in American sports.” It continued: “Outside of politics, there may be nobody in popular culture at this complex moment so divisive and so galvanizing, so scorned and so appreciated.”
Now, looking at the image of Floyd’s neck being crushed by a white police officer’s knee next to Kaepernick’s knee on the football field, the athlete’s show of activism feels disturbingly poignant and incredibly important. It should have always been important, but now those who were confused or put off before have a visual representation of exactly what his intent was and still is today.
In the hours after James shared the image, it went viral and has been shared millions of times over on Instagram and Twitter. Kaepernick also made his own statement today via social media, writing, “When civility leads to death, revolting is the only logical reaction. The cries for peace will rain down, and when they do, they will land on deaf ears because your violence has brought resistance. We have the right to fight back! Rest in Power George Floyd.”
Two images of men kneeling, one urgent reminder to stand up for what’s right.