The words “I Can’t Breathe” shook up the globe as the cell phone video clip of the murder of George Floyd went viral in 2020.
But for millions of Black people the statement also calls out another form of unremedied systemic racism: air pollution.
Now, nearly two years after Floyd’s death and several other killings by police, a new report shows more Americans than before can’t breathe due to dirty air, and Black people are still among those most vulnerable to air pollution’s negative health effects.
It’s no wonder that in 2020, shortly after Floyd’s murder, environmental justice activist Mustafa Santiago Ali made the connection between Floyd’s dying words and air pollution.
“As police take lives with chokeholds and asphyxiate others with knees on their necks, we are reminded that racism is literally killing our people and planet,” he wrote. “Communities of color have appealed for decades to politicians, policymakers and environmental organizations that they ‘can’t breathe,’ only to be ignored.”