Photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash

Prison is a cynical place in general. I guess over time, being crushed, chewed and mauled by the system that professes to be the Best Judicial System In The World makes the inhabitants of a place like this sardonic. I remember coming to New Jersey State Prison with a lot of baggage, a chip on the shoulder so to speak. Losing a trial with the most circumstantial of evidence was a shock to my system. To tell you the truth, in my navel, I really chalked it up as an anomaly. I STILL believed in the system.

Yet, I remember so many of the older prisoners in here who, after hearing my summarized version of events, would often display a particular sad smile. They would then nod knowingly and pat my back and walk away, leaving me slightly confused and annoyed.

“What the hell was that all about,” I would often mutter under my breath.

Then, over the years, time taught me the reality of the system. I thought I knew it all by now. I thought that I had the comprehension. I thought I understood the subtleties, the racism, the bigotry, the failures and injustices of the failed system of justice.

But, even now, today, I learned that I don’t know anything.

George Floyd’s murder changed everything. I sat there with emotions that I can’t convey with words. Because watching that man getting killed invoked passions of vengeance, which any ethnic Pakistani, Afghan or a man from the Middle-East would feel.

This time, however, these passions came quickly with a realization, a bit of shame and a lot of regret. As a Pakistani American, I had figured that I understood racism. Especially post 9/11, I faced my share of issues with bigotry and discrimination. I felt shame and regret because over the years I have had multiple conversations, debates and arguments over races issues with many of my African American Muslim brothers, some of whom are in their late 70s. I always thought that I could present a cogent argument or could state a point of view, but more than often than not they would just stop arguing with me, give me that knowing nod and pat my back, and walk away. Leaving me slightly annoyed and confused.

You see, watching that police officer, Chauvin, pin his knee deeper into George Floyd’s neck with his hands in his pockets, opened my eyes to the fact that I didn’t have the slightest clue about discrimination, prejudice and real racism.

So, as a grown and perhaps wiser man, I could only do the most honest of things as a person who is not Black, and that was to shut up, to listen, and to hear from those of my brothers who actually know what they are talking about.

After listening to a cacophony of voices from outside and inside, I also realized that there is no real opportunity or forum for prisoners in here, at New Jersey State Prison, to add their voices. So, I came up with an idea. I simply posed a question, “What were your feelings when you saw George Floyd getting murdered? Please share your views.”

What transpired next left me sitting stunned and speechless at 2:30 a.m. among a pile of submissions with a heavy heart and eyes filled with tears. You see, I had a completely different plan to tackle and address this subject, but, once again, it became abundantly clear that I just needed to be quiet.

— Tariq MaQbool


“‘Please… I can’t breathe! Don’t kill me”

I paused and held my breath as I watched the murder of Mr. George Floyd on my 13-inch television screen. I gasped in shock as former police officer Derek Chuavin, in broad daylight, with all his body weight pressed his knee for 8 minutes and 46 seconds on the neck of this already subdued young black man!

I cringed as Derek Chauvin, with his hands inserted into his pockets and a sinister look upon his face, looked uncaringly into the direction of the crowd while Mr. Floyd sadly and desperately called out for his mother!

I later found out that Mr. Floyd’s mother was deceased. His mother was gone, and yet he still called out for her with his last breaths.

A DAMN SHAME!

I witnessed a man get murdered by a police officer! My heart was engulfed with so much sorrow for Mr. Floyd as I watched his life get snuffed out so unjustly! Anxiety began to set in and my heart quickened its pace! And for a few moments I found it difficult to breathe. I had to calm myself.

The same script continues to play out, just with different people. The same situations. The same outcomes. Many of these police officers who have taken an oath “To Protect and Serve” are using their authority to act out their true character and what they actually stand for. Always attempting to disguise and conceal their prejudices.

And what of the many others who have been murdered unjustly? Some were recorded, some not. Why does it continue to be this pattern of murdering us black men and women and other people of color by corrupt racist police?

What about all the people of color that have been and continue to be placed in these warehouses called prisons unjustly to serve outrageous sentences? Sentences that destroy families.

This is also another form of murder. Another form of having a knee pressed onto our necks! Another form of carrying out prejudices. Another form of destroying a race.

— Anthony Peoples


“We Will Breathe Again”

What were my feelings when I saw George Floyd getting murdered?

Hopelessness! The meaning of a lynching! The 400 years of lynching of my ancestors! Great, great, great, great grandparents, my parents, myself, and my 13-year-old son.

The lynching of my nationality! I felt the realization of the generations that are still struggling to breathe today.

I can’t breathe!

I felt the tears from the whole of my soul to my eyelids, but there were no tears to come out. I wonder if I’m a ‘Georg Floyd’, or his son.

For the first time in my life I felt and learned the exact meaning of systemic racism, a plague that affects my whole body. The whole African nationality.

I felt breathless when my son asked if I saw what had happened, and why?

Silence.

I am unable to answer something that I wasn’t provided an answer for, an answer which my parents or their patents couldn’t provide.

I also felt the White man’s word “N-”! I felt the millions of footsteps behind. I felt the pain, depression, desperation, struggle, unrest, discrimination, inequality, denied loans, denied jobs, denied education. I also felt the silenced voices of those who yelled and pleaded, crying and fighting, and untold emotions, all mixed with mine.

I felt that and more, all due to a system that was designed against us. I FEEL the enslavement of “Blacks Only” of the Criminal Justice System. I FEEL being three-fifths of a human under the United States Constitution.

I felt the knee that was on the necks of my people and is still on our necks.

Still, I felt for help.

Then I felt hope. I heard the voices, saw my people around, and felt the strength of 401 years of still NOT broken. I could hear my son’s footsteps in the crowd of protest.

Hope!

Instead of people yelling and screaming they were roaring along. Not being heard but felt. Not only waking America, but the whole world. The meaning of hope, and holding on, pushing through.

I am proud to be Black! I felt us! I am the power of Black.

I felt, our Black lives matter. Our Black lives do matter.

I felt us! And we will breathe again!

— Sharif Brockington-Torres


“Fascinated”

I’m fascinated with law enforcement and the culture of military application. Both arenas filled with noble-minded persons. So, I have no qualms with an officer and soldier who has been trained to go beyond what is necessary. I have a problem with the system that has trained them, not the people per se. The system needs to be overhauled, completely.

Think of the system as a computer. It won’t boot up because a floppy disk has been left in the drive. Once we discover the problem, we need to remove the disk. Then the computer will work again, but lingering problems are still affecting the computer. Now we have to “Control-Alt-Delete” — “Control” are agendas, “Alt” our course of action, and “Delete” the effects that have plagued the nation with inequality.

— Hamzah Franklin


“They George Floyd’d me”

When I saw the video of George Floyd being murdered my feelings were:

“Damn, they did the same thing to me!”
The stenographer put her knee in my neck when she doctored the transcripts on me
for her husband
This cell is smothering me…
I’ve been screaming: “I Can’t Breathe!”
Since it’s a white knee in my neck
They can’t hear me…
Her White word against my Black word
The Appellate Court said, Nigga you got
some nerve!
Appeal Denied!!!
They all Eric Gatner’d, George Floyd’d me…
“I Can’t Breathe!”

— Kory “Hussain” McClary


“Camera”

“If it wasn’t on camera, no officer would have been charged!”

— Anonymous


“Beyond all Understanding”

In short, I felt sad first, then very hurt. To see a man trying to get air, while calling out for his mother and just die was beyond all understanding.

And not to go into a very long statement about it, but it’s part of the reason many of us are in prison all over the country. Police lie, plant evidence, the Courts uphold unlawful convictions and we die in places like this.

But this is nothing new to me; I’ve seen this all my life. My question to you is what are you going to about unlawful mass incarceration???

This system is broken and no one cares. It’s all about the dollars. We’re products to you people for just having a job. That’s why you treat us the way you do. I’m a victim; you just haven’t killed me yet!!!

— Anonymous


“The Tragedy Continues”

Unfortunately, this sad tragedy will continue to happen until a major change comes about and those officers that are responsible for the unjustified beatings and murder are immediately held accountable for their gratuitous actions.

But for the peaceful protest, the violent riots and then looting, the four officers would never be arrested and charged with the murder of George Floyd.

Personally, I really don’t think that things will change, unless serious changes are made within the laws. Specifically, law enforcement officials have one set of laws for themselves and another set of laws for everyone else.

In the Rodney King’s violent beating situation, those officers were found ‘not guilty’. In 2014 Michael Brown was murdered by officers. Here we are in 2020, some six years later, and the same old tragedy continues nationwide.

Changes will only come about only when changes in the one-sided laws are made.

— J. Biddle


“Anger”

When I saw the video I was angry.

My next thought was why they always need an INVESTIGATION when they have that kind of footage.

— A. Francis


“Video”

As a 62-year-old African American Muslim, when I saw the murder of George Floyd as well as the murder of Ahmaud Arbery back in February of this year, play out on nationwide TV, it impacted my heart and spirit and left me filled with anxiety, stress and despair.

And had it not been for the video, in George Floyd’s case, he would have been labeled a common criminal who died while resisting arrest for passing a so-called $20 bill.

There was also no video in my case 19 years ago. If there was I would be free and home with my family. And not serving a life sentence for armed robbery and aggravated assault on a police officer.

— Rajhn Kalim


“Supposed to Happen”

I was NOT surprised when I saw George Floyd get lynched. Simply based on history, it was supposed to happen. I would suggest that you examine and research the U.S. Constitution.

Ask yourself, those who participated and wrote the Constitution, were any of them Black? Research the significance of the year 1619, the Reconstruction Era, the Jim Crow Era, Civil Rights and the Black Power Movements, and see how they relate to African Americans and Black people. Research segregation, gentrification, redlining, redistricting, busing, poor housing, racism, poor healthcare, poor school systems, poor politicians, poverty, drugs, crime, homelessness, mass incarceration, and ‘police’ that don’t live in the community that police the community, and that are of opposite race.

Once you are able to thoroughly research, examine and be sincere about your resolve, ONLY then you will be able to understand why, what happened to Mr. George Floyd was SUPPOSED to happen.

— Ibn El Amin Pasha


The above were just a few select captive voices from behind these walls. But, of course, there are other voices as well such as the ones who walk around wearing blue with shiny badges. So, in the interest of being objective, I reached out to a few officers for comments as well. That went as follows:


“I Would Have Stopped Him”

I stay out of politics man … Yeah, it wasn’t good. Did you know they burnt down Downtown Trenton? I hope [Officer Chauvin] gets the most time they can possibly give him. If I was there I would have stopped him. I probably would’ve punched him or tackled him off that guy.

Outside some people curse me out when they see me in uniform. But, I don’t give a shit. I say “fuck you” to them.

I call it politics because, you know, what happened to the whole thing about the fucking virus? They all forgot about that on CNN, Fox, and this thing is all over the place now. And people are burning and looting. Like I said, I think it’s all politics and I stay away from that.

What I think about racism? Man, it’s like someone getting drunk. Whoever gets drunk we punish that person but, I don’t know, I think they are just using it as a political thing. I don’t feel that way towards people. You know how I am, you treat me good and respect me and I will treat you with respect as well.

Like I said, I feel bad about what happened to that guy and I wouldn’t let it happen.

—Anonymous Officer (White male)


“Under the Uniform”

I think it was crazy. I wear this uniform but under it I am a Black man. You understand. I went to the protest yesterday with my kids. I am not for any of that stuff.

No, I didn’t feel… No one [outside] is saying anything [bad] to me. As I said, I’m a Black man.

What? No, I don’t talk to a lot of my [fellow White] officers about this, because … I know what they are about and what they put-out on social media and I see it. I don’t talk to them about it because then I will hate them.

Yeah, I separate it. Because I work here and I just don’t talk to them about it.

— Anonymous Officer (Black male)


“My Heart Hurt”

My heart hurt. I don’t talk about it to anyone other than my own people…. I don’t trust anyone and I would not stand for it.

How I feel as a Black cop? … I got kids. But I ain’t allowing them to do anything like that when I’m around. Like I said, I got kids.

— Anonymous Officer (Black female)

 
Disclaimer: The views in this article are those of the author. The Prison Journalism Project has verified the writer’s identity and basic facts such as the names of institutions mentioned. The work is lightly edited but has not been otherwise fact-checked.

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Tariq MaQbool

Tariq MaQbool is a contributing writer at the Prison Journalism Project and maintains Captive Voices, a blog where he shares his poetry and essays as well as the writings of other incarcerated people. He was convicted of double homicide in 2005 and is serving 150 years at the New Jersey State Prison. His work has been published in The Marshall Project and The News Station.