By Corey Lewis, CPT, CSCS
Take a breath and be grateful for the air that fills your lungs. George Floyd lost his life when Derek Chauvin denied him his right to breathe. For several minutes, George gasped for air and begged for his life. Onlookers begged for his life, too, but Derek Chauvin didn’t listen. Thomas Lane, J. Alexander Kueng, and Tou Thoa didn’t listen, either. I don’t know if it was due to racism, or poor training, or a complete lack of empathy, but George Floyd is dead, and people are angry.
When I saw George Floyd’s face pressed against the sidewalk, I saw myself. And when they rolled his limp, lifeless body onto a gurney, I thought about my family and friends. Our country has come a long way since Kent State, Stonewall, and the Tulsa Race Massacre. But when I witness what feels like a modern-day lynching, I feel like we still have a ways to go.
I’ve spoken with police officers and friends from every political persuasion, and they have all acknowledged the brutality of George’s arrest. That’s a start. Every time I watch the videos I feel anger, sadness, and anxiety—and I know that I am not alone in feeling this way. Other Black men and women wonder if they’ll be next. Mothers fear that their children will not come home. It’s 2020, and Black families shouldn’t have to sit their kids down to have “the talk” about how to survive an encounter with law enforcement, and yet here we are again.
Martin Luther King said, “A riot is the language of the unheard.” He was not condoning violence—and neither am I. But he understood it. We’ve been under lockdown for three months due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and people are feeling the mental health effects of social isolation. 40 million people are out of work and out of school in this country as a consequence of the lockdown. People are feeling hopeless and powerless. It’s no wonder that this horrific incident of police brutality set off a chain reaction across the country.
I don’t want more violence. I don’t want looting, vandalism, or fighting in the streets. I don’t want neighborhoods destroyed, where people who can’t afford bus tickets have nowhere to shop for the things they need. But I also don’t want more of my brothers and sisters to be killed unnecessarily because of the systemic problems in the criminal justice system that have yet to be resolved.
There are many good cops who follow standard operating procedures. They follow the law and they treat people humanely. There are many precincts that engage in community policing, where they partner with their local communities to address the core problems that result in arrests. But there are also incidents that should not happen, and I don’t know how they will be fixed.
Some people say you should vote, but that didn’t work in Minneapolis. The city failed George Floyd when a cop with 18 prior complaints took his life over a suspected fake $20 bill. Other people want to introduce legislation to end Qualified Immunity, to end the War on Drugs, to change the way we educate our children, and to establish more community review boards. I don’t pretend to know the answer to this problem, but I do know that something must be done.
In the meantime, I know that change does not happen overnight, and I must cope with these emotions for the time being. I expect that others are having trouble dealing with these troubling times, too, so I’ll share a few ideas that may help ease your internal tension.
Spend some time each day to think about what matters in your life. Be grateful that you are safe and that you have friends and family who care for you. If you are religious and find peace in prayer or meditating over scripture, then do that. If you are not religious, or you want to try something else, then spend a few minutes each day meditating, reading, knitting, solving puzzles, or otherwise putting your mind in a restful state. A positive attitude will help you cope with the hardest of times.
Social distancing does not mean complete social isolation. Call a friend or family member whom you haven’t spoken with recently. If you don’t have time for a call, then send an email or a text message. If you’re fortunate enough to hunker down with a friend or significant other, then spend some time communicating about how you’re feeling and what you can do to overcome your anxiety. If you are feeling overwhelmed, then consider reaching out to a therapist. And, when lockdown comes to an end—and it will—get to know people in your local community.
Are you eating right, and exercising regularly? If not, then today’s a great time to get started. The good news is that you’re likely eating at home anyway, so you have full control over the ingredients in the food that you consume. In addition, you can get plenty of exercise without any equipment. Try our free at-home bodyweight workout as a starting point. Believe it or not, your physical health has a big impact on your mental health, so taking care of your body is also important self-care for your mind.
We all have moments where it can be hard to maintain control over negative thoughts. When strong emotions overwhelm you, you may lose sight of what’s right in front of you. Focus on the good things that are within your control, while you improve your understanding of those things that seem impossible to overcome. But more importantly, when you are feeling strong, and others are in a tough place, reach out. Or even better, provide guidance and mentorship to a young person in your community. We all need help from time to time, even if it’s just a few minutes of listening.
Unfortunately, it is common for tragic events like the death of George Floyd to affect our own sense of self-worth. His life was callously disregarded, and that may make you feel marginalized, too. But George Floyd was a uniquely valuable human being, and so are you. Don’t ever let anyone tell you that you are not enough. Be communicative about who you are and what you stand for. Practice self-acceptance. You are a unique individual, no matter how others may see you. Be proud of who you are, and continue to work on those things that will make you a better you. And as you build a better you, also work to rebuild and enrich your community in remembrance of George Floyd and everyone else whose lives were taken in this way.
If you want to make an impact beyond your local community, there are several things you can do. Below are some ideas for you to consider.