13 Apr 2021

Nine & a Half Minutes

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What time has not been consumed in media by the pandemic in the recent past seems to have been devoted to policing, racism (real and perceived), resulting riots and looting…and immigration gets what little time remains.

The George Floyd tragedy in Minnesota has captured media worldwide, and as media focuses so do our electeds.

Officer Derek Chauvin and three of his fellow Minneapolis police officers confronted George Floyd following a complaint of Mr. Floyd attempting to pass a counterfeit $20 bill. The ensuing confrontation ended with Mr. Floyd’s death and officer Chauvin on trial for his part in that event.

The PolicySmith sat contemplating the horrific tragedy while alone at a local swimming pool. It’s reasonable to ask what that has to do with anything — the pool deck is concrete and the mind narrows to focus on what nine and one half minutes, prone on concrete with 150 pounds of police officer weighing on one’s neck, must have inflicted on Mr. Floyd. Perhaps a personal experience in the same vein…

It would be easy enough to brush those considerations aside and go on with other reflections. That was now impossible. I could personally experience some of what this man went through. How horrific and terrifying could it have been, regardless of controlled substances present in Mr. Floyd’s system? The more I considered the actuality of it, the harder it was to escape.

It would be a simple matter to get out of my chair, lie down on the concrete deck, face down, hands at my sides and remain unmoving for that nearly 10-minute span. I thought “it’s only 10 minutes.” It’s a mere blip in my day, “do it.”

So I stood, laid a towel on the hot concrete, set the timer on my phone, laid down on my stomach, started the timer and placed my hands palms up by my sides (not together on my back as Mr. Floyd’s were bound). I immediately experienced the full weight of my body on my lungs. With my head to the side — and zero weight on my neck — I could feel the effort to breathe increase with every breath.

I lay completely still, my mind now questioning the wisdom and value of putting myself through this trial. I never moved to look at the elapsed time on my phone. I was absorbed with the pressure and grating texture of the concrete on my face, my chest and stomach, and the sides of my feet. That discomfort increased with every increasingly labored breath.

My mind began to race, wondering how long I’d been laying there, how much longer I had to endure. I could not guess. My arms ached and began to tingle as lying static apparently began to affect blood flow. My feet and legs experienced similar aches and tingling. My chest and stomach, compressed by the rest of my body, felt leaden and my breathing took concious and considerable effort to even halfway fill my lungs.

Lying in the sun I was perspiring freely and could only imagine how awful the stricture of Mr. Floyd’s clothes must have added to his agony and desperation. Knowing I was alone at the pool, I had the presence of mind to try to say “I can’t breathe.” It came out as a rasp to my ears. The thought of passing this time, whatever it was to that point, with a knee on my neck was unimaginable to me. Time seemed to stand still and yet the pain, tingling and labored breathing only accelerated.

My mouth was crying for water and my head ached with a numbing intensity. How much longer before I could arise from this self-imposed torture? My mind shifted to Mr. Floyd, what were his final thoughts — he called for Mama, in the panic of being arrested and crying out about claustrophobia he no doubt expended a great deal of his energy reserve, making him that much more helpless under the weight of the officer on his neck.

The realization that he was going to die, just as anyone who perceives their immediate demise, must have been excruciating. As I lay unmoving on the concrete pool deck, the timer on my phone sounded. In that nine and half minutes I had self-inflicted a level of physical misery and mental torture I could not have conceived.

I clumsily pulled my arms up to lift myself in an awkward pushup, and dizzily got to my feet, My face and chest ached from the pressure and the rough texture of the concrete. I drank deeply from my water bottle and half staggered to the pool steps to cool my aching feet and legs. I was able to do all of those things, and welcomed them.

Mr. Floyd experienced much worse. There was no water, no cooling, all possibilities exhausted.

He was gone.

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