This piece was really difficult piece to finish. Surprisingly, it wasn’t the portraiture that was challenging (although, I’ve never considered portraiture an artistic strength of mine). The hard part was the research. As an empath, researching the names of people whose lives were needlessly taken from them takes a lot of emotional energy.
This portrait of George Floyd includes the names of 200 other men, women, and children of color who have been killed. Most were unarmed and most died as a result of interacting with law enforcement. Researching incidents with police highlighted certain patterns (that sadly, as a cis-white passingly heterosexual woman were revelatory to me, while simultaneously being the unsurprising and heartbreaking reality for people of color). Trends I noticed include the following:
• People being killed as the result of no-knock warrants and botched drug raids (a number of which taking place at incorrect locations or based on inaccurate intel). These deaths include children, women and elderly people.
• People being shot in the back as they try to flee. (I know some people will use the logic of “well, they shouldn’t have committed a crime.” I fully acknowledge that some of the individuals listed in this piece were killed while caught or suspected of minor crimes. However, that doesn’t make killing them acceptable. For example, if a white teen boy stole a car, he’d unlikely get shot in the back by police fleeing the seen. If a couple blonde college girls stole stuff from Walmart, it’s unfathomable they’d get shot in the parking lot.) As a white person, it’s important to keep in mind that, for people of color, interactions with police are frequently deadly and risky. So, it’s understandable that even innocent people might flee a scene or run from police because plenty of other innocent people have been killed for less. Avoiding police isn’t an indicator of guilt, it’s likely a fight or flight reaction and common knowledge indicates “fight” will get them killed.)
• More recent cases offer body/dash cam footage, security videos, live streams, or cell phone recordings that question or contradict the original statements given by law enforcement. This is evidence that there is indeed a pattern of inappropriate and deadly behavior performed by law enforcement (without any expected impunity) against people of color.
• Routine traffic stops turning deadly isn’t uncommon for people of color. (As a white woman I’ve been pulled over twice in my life. I’m 36, I’ve been driving since I was 16. In 20 years, so an average of once every ten years–and both times I never feared for my life. Fellow white people need to realize this experience isn’t the norm for people of color. Just because the narratives don’t match your lived experience, doesn’t make them untrue.)
• Many people being killed in the midst of a mental breakdown. These were people who were not in a healthy state of mind, due to stress, drug use, brain chemistry, PTSD, or life circumstances. Understandably, police are ill-equipped to handle a mental health crisis. (This is why calling police on someone acting strangely can be deadly for that person. It’s also why people would like some police funding directed toward appropriate training to better assist these people or redirected entirely to another agency to help support the mental health needs.)
This is a portrait of George Floyd, because he’s become symbolic. It’s his image, but each name is just as important as his. Each name was a human.
Keep that in mind.
Every name has a story.
Each life lost was someone’s child.
Each person was loved.
And each name included in this work is just a beginning of a huge heartbreaking list of humans who didn’t deserve to lose their lives. It’s the tip of a huge figurative iceberg that many white people are either unaware of, or intentionally ignore.
I don’t know what else to say. Black lives matter. Black trans lives matter.
One was a 93 year old woman, one was an 8 year old girl, one woman was sleeping, one man had heart condition while killed in police custody, one was shot while already cuffed in the backseat of a patrol car. These are elderly people, college students, working professionals, trans women, and pregnant women. Each name is an individual who existed in this world until they didn’t. They were students, mothers, fathers, and working professionals. Some were killed during petty crimes a white person would never have been killed for. Some were killed because they “sort of looked suspicious or like another suspect”.
Each name was a human being. Each name was a life. Black lives matter.