Word on the street is that we are living in unprecedented times. Within our lifetimes, this is true. There have been other pathogens and deadlier strains of coronavirus, such as SARS-CoV and MERS-CoV, but none called for the intense self-isolation protocol of now. However, few among us were alive during the 1918 Spanish flu when, like now, people were encouraged to stay home and wear masks to prevent the spread of the contagion that killed an estimated 500 million worldwide. Even before 1918, there was the Cocoliztli epidemic of 1545, the Black Death of 1346, the Plague of Justinian of 541, and dozens of others. Arguably, the current pandemic is very much precedented.
What truly is unprecedented however, are the lives affected by COVID-19.
The stay-at-homers, who benefit from time to refocus on what is important, while simultaneously toeing the line between loneliness and solitude. Families are divided even further or finally brought under the same roof. “Essential” and “non-essential” workers, all impacted by the financial consequences of slowing down. And the patients, who from their hospital beds, either connect with their family over video call as they recover or are given special permission for a last visit from masked loved ones as they breathe their last breath.
What hurts the most: People, who lived unprecedented lives, are drowning in their own bodily fluids. They are dying despite the best efforts of respirators and doctors. To protect others and ourselves from similar death, precedent shows that we should sit at home and wait for a vaccine.
George Floyd: No one saw the world as he did
George Floyd’s death is not unprecedented. He died through asphyxia. Echoed in the gruesome death of Floyd are the words, “I can’t breathe.”
Floyd’s life is unprecedented. No one saw the world as he did. No one spoke as he could. No one thought, loved, or felt as he lived. George Floyd was a miracle, cut short as a police officer knelt on his neck.
Floyd could not breathe. His name joins those of Eric Garner and Michael Brown, on a growing list of unprecedented lives ended because not enough changed to protect them.
Justice for Floyd means unprecedented change. It means a reason to believe that his death will not be a precedent for another. If both nonviolent and violent protests do not motivate change, please tell, what will? There must be a way to better the world by working within the system, not outside of it.
Time to explore the issue of racism and police brutality
As the Class of 2020 and millions of American students’ lives continue from home, there is time to explore the issue of racism and police brutality. Time to feel alongside Floyd’s family and friends, as they work through such personal grief work while embarking on the long journey of prosecution. Time to read politicians’ reactions, from President Donald Trump’s misinformation-flagged tweets, to Sen. Amy Klobuchar’s inadequately worded statement. Time to understand the factors, including the positive correlation between “racial segregation, incarceration, educational attainment, economic disparity, and unemployment” and police violence against African-Americans, as found by professor Michael Siegel. Time to hope that law enforcement leaders’ backlash to the four officers’ gross misdemeanors lead to accountability. Time to look critically at the current information and find that more data on the circumstances of police violence and confrontation are needed, such as how many times officers draw their weapons, rather than just numbers that sort fatal police shootings by race.
As self-isolation protocol is gently loosened, we emerge from our homes in masks, the air we breathe is changed. But it is better to breathe filtered air than none. Time keeps ticking, only stopping for the dead. When we get through this, we will mourn the thousands of unique lives that were taken by this strain of coronavirus and the life of George Floyd. If we survive, however, it is up to us to see to it that life is protected. Every circumstance and every death has a precedent, but the air we breathe is shared by billions of unprecedented lives whose freedom must be protected.
Tricia Lim Castro of Sartell is a graduate and valedictorian of St. Cloud Cathedral High School Class of 2020, currently enrolled at the University of Southern California.
WANT TO ADD YOUR VOICE?
If you’re interested in joining the discussion, add your voice to the Comment section below — or consider writing a letter or a longer-form Community Voices commentary. (For more information about Community Voices, see our Submission Guidelines.)