Yearning to Breathe

Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me
I once was lost, but now am found
Was blind but now I see.

- Anglican clergyman John Newton, former slave ship captain

Yearning to Breathe

Photography by Rod Lamkey Jr. and Nima Taradji • Text by Rod Lamkey Jr.

Clouds of tear gas drifted across the warm early summer midnight air like a misty fog in a mysterious horror movie. Ominous. Powerful.

And the running man was silhouetted by bright lights and the darkened figures of men in helmets, shields and badges all in a neat row and the screaming and the shouting and the chanting filled the ears but it had no effect on the men in the military police line, interrupted by the occasional explosion of a flashbang device rolled on the ground like a bowling ball toward the running man, now fully engulfed in the cloud.

Then more tear gas, then fireworks exploded in the street with a bang, and the people ran in all directions, also engulfed in the cloud. In the cloud the eyes stung and the breathing was hard and choking and the nose was running like a faucet… then came the milk from another man out from the cloud and the running man ran off in the distance. 

“My kind of town” was the marquee of a Chicago CTA transit bus, holding the men in helmets and shields and guns, and in the night, the streetlight gave a glimpse of these men and women who would soon be on neat rows in the streets, lined up and ready for violence.

The light blue helmets a reminder of the riots of 1968, a different time, a different people, a similar violence. On a draw bridge over the Chicago River, the blue helmets tangled with the running man in a web of batons and metal and fear and anger.

Knocked to the ground the running man with tears in his eyes was being pulled in different directions like a rubber doll in the hands of a child. The blue helmets were a blur of motion as the batons were raised and ready to swing like a baseball player at the plate, waiting to swing for the lights.

The running man disappeared into the cloud and his voice was no longer heard.

In the morning, the sun rose with it’s warm glow on the nation’s capital, and they sky was clear and blue. The residual sting of tear gas left over from the night before hung over the neighborhood of The White House where the president slept in his bed.

The charred remains of a few cars sat where they burned and the trees above them were burnt, and the smell of smoke and auto chemicals lingered for the clean up crew who arrived to remove them. In the shattered windows of a bank the reflections of a city on fire were shimmering, graffiti-covered plywood covered signs of daily life on every street as people walked by the wreckage on their way to work, wearing protective masks from another catastrophe happening at the same time, but this one is without prejudice of race.

The nation’s capital is one of many cities around the nation: Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, Oakland, Miami and Minnesota engulfed in the cloud as thousands like the running man shouted out in anger against the fear, racism and brutality at the hands of police.

People who have died untimely deaths, people of color, people like George Floyd, Freddie Gray and so many others who died living their lives as anyone could expect. The running man is George Floyd, he is you, your sister, brother, father and friend. Through the cloud, the stinging chemical cloud still lingers, still moves across the land like a mysterious fog in a horror movie.

Ominous. Potent. Temporary.

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