top of page

I! CAN’T! BREATHE! By Marcellus Williams

Updated: Dec 28, 2020

Marcellus Williams has been on Missouri’s death row since 2001 for a murder he did not commit. He wrote the following poem in response to the tragic death of George Floyd in Minnesota. It is a reflection of what is currently happening in this country. Marcellus urges us to understand, “The historical and current implementation of state sanctioned killing must not be overlooked and its clear connection to the killing of blacks in the custody of police (or otherwise).”


neck plus knee i can’t breathe yeah black that’s a part of me i can’t breathe do some have to be lynched for the others to be free? i can’t breathe stars and stripes–explain again what the flag should mean to me? i said i can’t breathe sworn to serve and protect the community i still can’t breathe blue blood with black robes sipping a scotch and martini i can’t breathe in prison i sit witnessing covid’s killing spree i can’t breathe not surprised to see sociopathic characteristics on t.v. i can’t breathe still…never will get use to it so this poem helps ease my melancholy i can’t breathe why should i have to weigh what is truly weighty? i can’t breathe to be alive testifies to one’s purpose and importance in the human family i can’t breathe hand cuffed and subdued just isn’t enough no matter the city i can’t breathe one’s face must be imprinted on the pavement to hear the whispers say: “what a pity” i can’t breathe now behold officials scramble for a p.r. strategy i can’t breathe listen closely as the the community is mentioned before the family i can’t breathe if that went over your head welcome to the art of subtlety i can’t breathe but what do i know as a black man on death row with this plea: i can’t breathe the state’s use as an unlawful killing apparatus has a long history i can’t breathe constitutionally protected now look up in the air and see my liberty i can’t breathe now is there someone that can deny this connection and my affinity? i said i can’t breathe but i am not asking one to juxtapose these realities –because they are reality i can’t breathe i am just sharing my frustration with the frustrated and angry i can’t breathe this goes much deeper than civil servants lack of empathy i can’t breathe who can explain america’s fixation with the black man’s upper-vertebrae? i can’t breathe strangulation from a chokehold a knee or a tree i can’t breathe rushing to the scene of a suspected felony i can’t breathe the scenario gets blurred by authoritative criminality i can’t breathe four essential workers out of a job essentially i can’t breathe never could this be the solution to cure this malignant evil that reoccurs and spreads destructively i can’t breathe i hear the voices again and again chanting: “no justice no peace” i can’t breathe exercising democratically held rights as a release i can’t breathe now sign on this dotted line to engage in a designer-protest in the streets i can’t breathe most want to ask: “what do you mean?” shhh… i can’t breathe listen can you hear the heart beats? i can’t breathe as they slow down to a other worldly rhythm that’s strange and discrete i can’t breathe so full of contradictions but still able to reach (insha’allaah) i can’t breathe– each must take a long breath and never fail to think clearly before speech i can’t breathe then breathe again and appreciate life and be mindful of death because this back and forth cycle will not cease i can’t breathe organizations/social network groups/think tanks and conventions with feasts i can’t breathe congressional hearings/new bills and promises of change for peace i can’t breathe still patience is better than reactionary politics or incendiary antics in the belly of the beast i can’t breathe the strong is not the one who can take down the opponent with ease i can’t breathe the strong are those who control their anger even when they have a right to seethe i can’t breathe never the one to espouse the ‘way of life’ of turning the other cheek i can’t breathe divinely legislated retribution is what i believe i can’t breathe most want indictments not the perfect deen i can’t breathe although the cure is always better than the disease i can’t breathe so as the people gather to protest in the age where everyone sees i can’t breathe –take a conscious breath before any missteps and consider deeply what is to be achieved i can’t breathe seriously what is the plan what is to be achieved? i can’t breathe being marginalized for so long can a grand jury and conviction appease? i can’t breathe life is meant to be lived wholly not in pieces i can’t breathe– smothered by systemic denials and the deliberate indifference to the word: “please” “please” “please” -remove your knee because i can’t breathe was a death sentence warranted for an alleged $20 dollar forgery? i can’t breathe what ever happen to innocent until proven guilty? i can’t breathe behold the new phenomenon of after being found guilty many are proven innocent and set free i can’t breathe police must not think that they can be the judge/prosecution and jury i can’t breathe a disheartening affair that has happened all over the country I can’t breathe but i want live black men want to live black people deserve and have the right to live- and all humans have the right to breathe unrestricted so just breathe.

Written on death row by Marcellus Williams (5/27/2020)

21 views0 comments


bottom of page