Kenya Janae Burton (left) is a 19-year-old poet from Salinas, California. She performed her poem “For George Floyd” at the Black Lives Matter protest in Monterey on May 30 and in Salinas on June 1 | Photo: Claudia Meléndez Salinas
By Kenya Renae Burton
I can’t breathe
He’s going to kill me
Trigger finger, counterfeit bill, telling the officer he can’t breathe 15 times, one time too many. Taking another black man’s life
8 at night, 8 minutes of pleading, a two-minute video, one body to be buried
A cop with hands in his pockets and a smirk on his lips. Pointing like Columbus finding land that did not belong to him and you still proclaim his innocence
You will move on to the next story
While we scrape our men off of the streets
You let a guilty man go
While we pick out a casket
You give him bodyguards to protect him
While we choose his pallbearers
We are being gunned down like dogs and they still have the audacity to say racism doesn’t exist
Say that this system wasn’t built from the bodies of our sisters and brothers
Say I’m angry, say I’m vicious, say that I am an animal so it makes it okay to kill me.
They use our deaths to teach us lessons,
Don’t talk too loud
Don’t fight back
Hope that they get off of you before you take your last breath
You have a bulletproof vest and still, our phones prove no protection
We can catch our murder live and you would call it fabricated
Understand that your story will never just be yours
Your movement will become theirs
Turn our black lives matters into all lives matter because when the topic is not on them they feel shadowed
You can’t be the main protagonist without a white companion
If you hate this country so much why stay in it
Take this knee and call it unpatriotic
Call us scum
Tell me to go back to my country when this country is more mine than yours
Kaepernick got blacklisted and a cop gets repositioned
Takes a manhunt to bring a suspect in
Only did something when we saw the footage
We can have a group of Nazis walk down these streets and receive no punishment
But fight for the lives of black people and let the squads in
You want this skin but not the condition
You want the show but not the credits
You want my mouth but won’t take this medicine.
In your vocabulary injustice is called compromise and justice is special treatment.
One voice and make it 3/5ths of a person because it is easier if you can make a black person less than a man.
And they wonder why we only rise in numbers
We are only seen as people when we are groups
You hunted us down for centuries
You beat us. You lynched, you raped our women and children and we asked for equality and they gave us bondage
Accept these conditions or fall victim
We want to live but you want to finish what your ancestors started
You killed someone’s son, you killed someone’s daughter
You tell us to get over it after you wash off the blood
Paint over our memorials
Make us watch as you erase us
Word of advice
Show them that the inside of your palms are the same color as their skin
Don’t do anything that will make them want to come in
They will cut you open to see if you bleed the melanin you are so proud of
My mother told me from a very young age that you must respect authority
Never speak too loud
If a cop stops you don’t do anything to scare him
Look down and stay quiet
DO anything you can to make it home
Don’t make a mother bury her child
Apologized for my flesh, sorry that her loving a black man gave me a death sentence
Be good, and get home safe
One of my worst fears is bringing a beautiful black boy into this world that I will have to fill his bedtime stories with warnings and package his lunchbox with silence and submission. I will have to raise two different people, his blackness and the image.
That he will turn on the tv years from now and say why do they kill us
I will tell him he needs to love his pigment and he will say it makes him a target
I will try to show him how to love his hair and he will say that it feels like rope, tastes like heritage.
When the teacher asks him what he wants to be when he grows up, he will say old.
That he will look at a textbook and see our murders
Wondering when he will get his plot
I will have to tell him what my mother told me
They will see your skin as a weapon, your voice ammunition.
Cover up but keep your hood down, hands up and don’t make a sound
If you are too loud they will kindly compare it to the sound of their bullet
Ask you if black people are so fast why didn’t you dodge it
Is this what they call family traditions?
My culture was erased by privilege and now it feels the only thing I can pass down to my children is this noose, this gun, this knee, this barbwire
Maybe one day he will stumble upon a story
A man with the name of Floyd, the marches that were held in his name, the air that his people breathed for him
When we got tired of being polite
Tired of being peaceful when a protest becomes a murder technique
Angrier about a black man taking a knee against brutality
Than a white man taking a life
This is not just in Minneapolis, it is our neighborhoods
One day I will look at my beautiful black boy and pray that he makes it home. That he doesn’t run into the law.
I have found that I have come to fear cops more than burglars
We don’t call to have the fire extinguished in case they call us the arsonist
How can you question us when time and time again you show us that you will let us die.
Ironic how a man who fought against gun violence died beneath a cop
Suffocated on the irony, when the cop proved to him that they could make any man disappear
That he would get his 15 minutes of fame from the grave.
They thought that we wouldn’t fight for him
That we will take back the air they stole from him
We won’t let him disappear.
We will not let this son, this brother, this human being fade away
Did you know one of the last things that George Floyd did was call out for his mother?
Mama, he cried as if maybe the woman that gave him life could save him or maybe he called out for her because he knew he was going to die
Like a child seeking out his mother on a dark night
Wanting comfort but only feeling the concrete floor
Mama, help me, I can’t breathe, he’s going to kill me.
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