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Wednesday, June 03, 2020


by Buff Whitman-Bradley

Detail of the Cover of I Can't Breathe: A Killing on Bay Street by Matt Taibbi.

In America now
We can watch real murders
Then wait for officials to decide
Whether officers
Were justified
In killing the black man
As he lay handcuffed and helpless
Face down on the pavement.
In America now
We can listen to news reports
About whether there might be evidence
That the unarmed black jogger
Behaved in a way
That was threatening in some fashion
To the heavily armed
Father and son
Who jumped out of their pickup truck
And gunned him down.

In America now
We can watch videos
In which white people call the cops
On black children mowing lawns
In the wrong neighborhoods,
On black professionals
Who “seem suspicious”
Entering the lobbies
Of the condominiums where they live,
On black walkers who remind them
To leash their dogs.

In COVID America now
Black people are dying of the virus
At three times the rate
Of whites,
Black people are incarcerated
At six times the rate of whites
Black people are unemployed
At twice the rate of whites.

“I can’t breathe!” cried Eric Garner
For four hundred years.
“I can’t breathe!” cried George Floyd
For four hundred years.
“I can’t breathe!” cry black children
From broken and polluted neighborhoods,
From decaying and crumbling schools.
“I can’t breathe!” cry black parents
From hospital emergency rooms
Holding sons and daughters
In their laps
Who are dangerously ill
Because mom and dad could not afford
Early and dequate health care.
“I can’t breathe!” cry young black couples
Unable to rent or buy homes
And begin family life
In neighborhoods
Where the unspoken understanding
Is “whites only.”

“I can’t breathe!”

“I can’t breathe!”

“I can’t breathe . . .”

Buff Whitman-Bradley's poems have appeared in many print and online journals. His most recent books are To Get Our Bearings in this Wheeling World and Cancer Cantata. With his wife Cynthia, he produced the award-winning documentary film Outside In and, with the MIRC film collective, made the film Por Que Venimos. His interviews with soldiers refusing to fight in Iraq and Afghanistan were made into the book About Face: Military Resisters Turn Against War. He lives in northern California. He podcasts at: .