The other day, while browsing my Facebook news feed, I saw a link posted by two of my friends. It was for this:
One person posted this ironically and the other posted this in earnest. Let’s look at the most obvious problem with this shirt.
When you state something, you imply that the opposite is also true. For example, if you say, “Drunk drivers kill people,” you are also saying, “Sober drivers do not kill people.” So, when a shirt says, “Breathe easy. Don’t break the law,” it is also saying, “If you break the law, then you deserve to have difficulty breathing (or to not breathe at all).” What constitutes breaking the law, then? Well, lots of things, as it happens. Jaywalking. Turning on red when it’s posted you can’t do that. Failing to use your turn signal. Performing oral sex. No, I’m not making that last one up. In Indiana, oral sex is illegal, regardless of whether you are married to your partner or not.
Are any of these things worthy of capital punishment? Please tell me you’re all saying, “No, don’t be ridiculous” right now. And yet, according to this shirt, these people are not obeying the law and so they deserve to have lethal force used against them.
“But Erin,” you might be saying, “let’s get real here. It’s only talking about ‘big’ crimes, like killing people or resisting arrest.” Fair enough. Let’s look at that.
James Eagan Holmes was arrested outside of a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado after he went inside and killed 12 people and injured 70 more people. He was arrested. He wasn’t shot to death. He wasn’t choked to death in a prohibited maneuver. He. was. arrested.
Eric Garner was accused of selling loose cigarettes. Seriously, that’s what they thought he was doing. That’s not a capital offense. Even if Garner had resisted to the point where an officer felt his safety was threatened, are there not better ways to resolve that situation? The short answer is, “Of course there are,” and that’s why people are so upset and why #Icantbreathe is even a thing. Side note: when you become a police officer, you accept that public safety becomes more important than your own and that your job entails added risks because of this. If you don’t want to be in danger, don’t become a police officer. I don’t want to be in danger. This is why I’m not a cop. Seriously. Lethal force should be your final option, not your first response.
When looking for inspiration for this last poem, I decided to try doing an erasure poem from a news story. The news story I chose had to do with Michael Brown and Eric Garner.
When The Wild West Was Yesterday
Who is telling the truth?
Have faith in military zones
that they can tell
Jack up the conflict—
Don’t release the name
arrest the journalists.
Respond with solidarity
explain the resonance
add another hashmark
to the genre
of Black Death.
“I can’t breathe.”