‘Get Your Knee Off Our Necks’



Demetrius Freeman for The New York Times

Get your knee off our necks.


Marcus Delespinasse, weary-eyed, stands on Broadway in the late afternoon. “The culture of America,” he tells me after I approached him on the street, “is that it’s OK to treat blacks this way. That cop knew George Floyd would not make it. He still kept his knee there.”

一脸疲惫的马库斯·德莱斯皮纳斯(Marcus Delespinasse)站在午后的百老汇大街上。“这就是美国的文化,”他对上前跟他交谈的我说,“这样对待黑人是可以的。那个警察知道乔治·弗洛伊德(George Floyd)不行了。他的膝盖还是压在那儿。”

Yes, Derek Chauvin, who has been charged with second-degree murder, kept his knee on Floyd’s neck for almost nine minutes. A powerful white man asphyxiating a powerless black man, a scene with a long American history, part of the nation’s iconography. Chauvin was a training officer for the other cops at the scene. His blithe expression said, “Watch me kill.”

是的,被控二级谋杀的德雷克·肖万(Derek Chauvin)用膝盖压着弗洛伊德的脖子将近9分钟。一个掌握权力的白人男子令一个无力的黑人男子窒息而死,这样的场景在美国历史中早已有之,是这个国家形象的一部分。肖万是现场其他警察的教官。他愉快的表情仿佛在说:“看看我怎么杀人。”

“Get your knee off our necks,” is the Rev. Al Sharpton’s phrase for the uprising of 2020. The “knee” has been there for a while. It was in the Constitution’s three-fifths clause that set the census value of a slave at 60 percent of a free human being. The “knee” is slavery and Jim Crow and lynching and segregation in schools and transportation and neighborhoods and on and on and on through all the inflections of systemic state oppression of African-Americans that allowed Chauvin to believe he had the right as a white man to do what he did.

“把你的膝盖从我们脖子上拿下来,”阿尔·夏普顿牧师(Rev. Al Sharpton)用这样一句话归纳2020年的这场反抗运动。这个“膝盖”已经存在多时了。它就在宪法的“五分之三条款”中,规定奴隶在人口普查中算60%的自由人。“膝盖”是奴隶制、吉姆·克劳(Jim Crow)法和私刑,是学校、交通工具和社区等各种地方的种族隔离,各种对非裔美国人的系统性政权压迫的变种,让肖万相信,身为一个白人男性,他有权做他所做的这件事。

“Being black in America should not be a death sentence,” Jacob Frey, the mayor of Minneapolis, the liberal city where Floyd was killed, said. He had to say that more than a half-century after the civil rights movement. Think about it.

“在美国,身为黑人不应意味着被判死刑,”弗洛伊德被杀时所在的自由派城市明尼阿波利斯的市长雅各布·弗雷(Jacob Frey)说。民权运动结束已经半个多世纪了,如今他还要这样说。想想看吧。

Get your knee off our necks.


Aged 52 and unemployed, Delespinasse is black. I feel despair as I write that sentence. So-and-so is white. So-and-so is black. All those parentheses running through copy, the refrain of failure. To explain what exactly? America’s societal fracture; America’s original sin; America’s shame that life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness have never been equally afforded its citizens. I might have written: Aged 52 and unemployed, Delespinasse is a human being. The likes of Chauvin still cannot see that.


“You look at that video and think that could be me, or my cousin, or my uncle,” Delespinasse tells me. “Police have impunity. No wonder young people are enraged. That cop with his knee resting there sums up the savageness of white apathy.”


Delespinasse looks out with those weary eyes on a ghostly New York. First the hum-and-honking of the city gave way to pandemic-induced silence interspersed with ambulance sirens. Now, after the looting, the sound of New York is the screeching of electric saws cutting plywood to board up broken windows and the rumbling bursts of electric screwdrivers fixing the panels in place. This is the audio of a great city’s disaster. This is the audio of a virus that sharpened the inequities of American dysfunction.


Get your knee off our necks.


There is no right to pillage and burn in the United States. But human beings will react to entrenched state violence, in extreme cases a license to kill, which is what black Americans have confronted for centuries. All that is needed for rebellion against relentless oppression is a spark. What happens to a dream deferred, asked Langston Hughes? “Does it explode?”

在美国,你没有掠夺和焚烧的权利。但人类会对根深蒂固的、在极端情况下会成为杀人许可证的国家暴力做出反应,这是美国黑人几个世纪以来一直面临的问题。要反抗无情的压迫,你所需要的只是一个火花。被搁置的梦想会变成什么样?兰斯顿·休斯(Langston Hughes)问道。“它会爆炸吗?”

The savageness of white apathy: a striking phrase, and sometimes it is worse than apathy. Consider Amy Cooper, that highly educated white woman caught on video in Central Park. She found herself saying she would tell the police there is “an African-American man threatening my life.” Because a black man, Christian Cooper (no relation), an avid birder, had properly asked her to leash her dog. It’s important to call such racist aggression by its name.

白人冷漠的残暴:一个令人震惊的词,而有时的情况,比冷漠更糟糕。比如艾米·库珀(Amy Cooper),那个受过高等教育的白人女性在中央公园被拍下了视频。她说她会告诉警察,“有个非裔美国人威胁我的生命”。这只是因为一个名叫克里斯蒂安·库珀(Christian Cooper,两人无亲缘关系)的黑人,一个观鸟爱好者,礼貌地要求她把自己的狗拴起来。对于这种种族主义的侵犯行为,必须正确地为它定性是十分重要的。

Those impulses are what President Trump, a racist who launched his successful campaign in 2015 by calling Mexicans entering the country “rapists,” plays on. Violence and division are his elements. He has no other. Hence his recent threat to deploy the military to quash “domestic terror,” his repeated talk of “domination,” his encouragement to violence couched in endless references to Second Amendment rights, and his tweeting support for Senator Tom Cotton, a prominent Republican, who called in a tweet for the deployment of “10th Mountain, 82nd Airborne, 1st Cav, 3rd Infantry — whatever it takes to restore order.”

特朗普总统所利用的正是这样的冲动。作为一个种族主义者,特朗普在2015年发起成功的竞选活动,靠的是将进入美国的墨西哥人称为“强奸犯”。暴力和分裂是他的基本元素,没有别的东西。所以他最近威胁要部署军队,镇压“国内的恐怖”,他反复用“驾驭”这个词,他没完没了地引用第二修正案的权利,表达对暴力的鼓励,他还发推支持参议员汤姆·科顿(Tom Cotton),这位地位显赫的共和党人发推呼吁调遣“第10山地师、第82空降师、第1骑兵师、第3步兵师——不惜一切代价恢复秩序。”

Whatever it takes to do what? To stop the lawbreakers and looters, Trump and Cotton would say with breathtaking disingenuousness. The military is not needed for that.


No, the point would be this: to assert with a great show of force, after the slow-motion murder of George Floyd by a white police officer, that the oppressive system that produced this act is not about to change and armed white male power in America is inviolable. That is Trump’s fundamental credo. His Bible-brandishing, American Gothic portrait this week outside St. John’s Episcopal Church in Washington is one of the most disturbing portraits of psychopathic self-importance seen since 1933.


Get your knee off our necks — and American democracy.


Trump was widely dismissed in 2015. He was dismissed in 2016, for that matter, until he won. A fringe loony, he would burn out. Turned out tens of millions of Americans thought like him.


Cotton followed up on his tweet with his now infamous send-in-the-troops Op-Ed in The New York Times. The piece was wrong, repugnant, mistimed and flawed. It was also extremely relevant and very dangerous to ignore. I prefer to read it and vote with rage than experience again, in November, the consequences of complacent liberal ignorance.