What I can’t do is change my skin color for y’all… Just like when I go to work everyday, it’s a choice… no matter what happens in that day, good or bad, I chose it. When I was born I didn’t choose that. I didn’t choose to be the color I am, but I’m proud of who I am and I would not change it for the world. So, before you decide it’s just not a big deal. Before you make excuses. Before you say enough is enough and get over it. I’ll get over it when I don’t have to pray to hear from my kids every morning to know they’re okay. I don’t have to have a meltdown if they didn’t respond within the first hour or so, because I’m now worried something happened to my Good. Black. Kids. So when I can start waking up every morning and not fearing for my kids or my loved ones, then, then, and only then you ask me to stop. — Tiffany Cooper, June 15, Salina, Kansas
Please take this eleven minute walk with Salinan Tiffany Cooper, in which she covers the last eight minutes and 46 seconds of Floyd’s life, and his dying words.
It was Thursday afternoon, May 11th when I got the text from Larry, a fellow Salinan, saying that he “was doing a chalk installation drawing along with Tammy” on the sidewalk downtown, and they needed an artist to add some visuals to it. The drawing was a three-quarter-mile-long electrocardiogram tracing (the familiar heartbeat pattern) depicting the eight minutes and forty-six seconds during which Derek Chauvin’s knee was on George Floyd’s neck as he was murdering Floyd on May 25. Ten-second intervals were indicated along the tracing, and Floyd’s dying words were chalked in at the various times he said them.
Larry suggested that I render an image of a knee on Floyd’s neck at the beginning of the heartbeat tracing and another of Floyd with eyes closed at six minutes, three seconds—the point at which he became unresponsive. (At 6:03, the pulse on the sidewalk goes flat.)
I asked Larry to elaborate on how he came up with the heartbeat concept and what kind of reactions he had to it.
A friend had asked me if I had done any of the 8:46 events and realized how long that was. Then walking to Ad Astra [Tammy’s coffee shop], I thought about how long the walk was. I felt that a 8:46 walk and you had to read what George said while dying could make us think. The heartbeat seemed like a dramatic thing to tie the words together while showing how long he was suffering and then flatlined/non responsive.
Tammy and I were still drawing when a husband of a friend came to us. His wife had to stop midway through because she was so moved and upset. Later she came by Ad Astra still teared up. Thanking us for such a moving and eye-opening experience.
A few people stopped me and asked what I was doing. They did not get it, as if they had not heard of George Floyd.
One man agreed that George’s death was horrible, “BUT…” and that’s all I have to say about that.
Larry and Tammy’s powerful installation of George Floyd’s heartbeat stretched two blocks on Santa Fe Ave. from in front of Martinelli’s, a popular local restaurant, up to Ad Astra.
I went to Santa Fe Ave. on Friday morning in response to Larry’s text and spent the day recreating the infamous image of Chauvin’s murderous knee on Floyd’s neck in chalk outside Martinelli’s. I did the same with a now-well-known photo of George Floyd at the 6:03 mark, but I showed his eyes closed.
The next day at 4:00 pm I got a text from Larry saying that he was sorry to have to tell me but that my art had been rubbed out.
When I heard Saturday that your pics had been rubbed out, I was outraged. I wish we’d had cameras. But it doesn’t matter who. What matters is it shows that this heartbeat walk is so necessary for whites to open their eyes to the hate our fellow humans with darker skins than ours experience every fucking day.
The Flower Nook [a local flower shop] donated a bucket of flowers at the end of the walk. We placed a sign encouraging others to drop flowers there. The entire bucket of memorial flowers was stolen. No respect for Floyd and no respect for those mourning his death.
It was a sad day for me to be a Salinan, when just two weeks ago I was really proud to be one. On May 31, I walked in the “No Justice No Peace” march that was prompted by the murders of Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd and organized by another friend, Miranda, along with others. Hundreds of protestors in face masks participated in this historic event. In the twenty years I’ve been living in Salina, Kansas, I have never experienced such love and solidarity for long-overdue racial justice.
On May 31st I was so proud to be from Salina. 400 people came to walk for civil rights eight blocks and no problems. I expected 50 people to show up. At the most. It was overwhelming pride but heartache that we are still marching, all these years later. There were kids there among people in their 70s. It was amazing.
When Priti’s art was defaced on Santa Fe just two weeks later, I felt the exact opposite. Sad. Mad and frustrated all over again. Frankly, the defamation made me want to march again.
Are some people that ignorant or untouched by our world’s injustices? It saddens but encourages me every day. I personally thought if any person [who disliked it] had any respect they would simply look away. It’s unfortunate we, as humans, seem to choose the wrong times to “look away”. Not anymore. I refuse to let the City of Salina “look away”. That’s why I proposed a “Know Justice Know Peace Plaza” so we can paint a mural, have a safe space for minorities and remember Dana Adams, who was killed by a mob here in 1893. Salina will no longer turn its back on any minority or one person giving our communities strength and a sense of pride. A place where we all can demonstrate civil rights and not have it be destroyed. There will be a light in the darkness here in Salina. Love always outshines hate.
What will it take for white-America to change its murder-ignoring ways? To wake the fuck up. To pay heed to Tiffany’s words. To walk in her shoes. To feel her pain as her body and voice make that posthumous eight minutes 46 seconds journey with George Floyd.
Change is here. It has been an unprecedented time, no doubt, for Americans of all hues to take to the streets and sidewalks and dissent against systemic racial injustice and continuing police atrocities. But if you click on the link at the beginning of this article and take that journey with Tiffany, then you can see that the road to change is still hard and long.
Priti Gulati Cox (@PritiGCox) is an artist and the creator of the Sidewalk Museum of Congress located outside the office of Kansas’ 1st District Congress member @RogerMarshallMD in Salina, Kansas. Please go here to see her work.