Tuesday, February 3, 2015

The "I Can't Breathe" Protest Song (Information, Lyrics, & Videos)

Edited by Azizi Powell

This post showcases a new civil rights song entitled "I Can't Breathe" which was composed in 2014 by Luke Nephew of The Peace Poets.

This post also provides information about and videos of Samuel L. Jackson's "I Can't Breathe" song challenge.

The content of this post is presented for cultural, folkloric, motivational, and aesthetic purposes.

All copyrights remain with their owners.

Thanks to Luke Nephew of The Peace Poets for composing this song and thanks also to Samuel L Jackson and all those who took the "I Can't Breathe" song challenge. In addition, thanks to all those who are quoted in this post and the publishers of these videos on YouTube.

From " 'I can’t breathe.’ Eric Garner’s last words are 2014’s most notable quote, according to a Yale librarian.
"Fred Shapiro had already finished his list of 2014’s most notable quotes and sent it out to the media on Dec. 3 — the same day a Staten Island grand jury decided to not indict a white New York police officer for the death of Eric Garner, a black man.

“I can’t breathe!” Garner had gasped repeatedly in July as officer Daniel Pantaleo wrapped his arm around Garner’s neck.

The morning after that grand jury decision, Shapiro, the editor of “The Yale Book of Quotations,” saw news coverage of protesters turning Garner’s final words into a rallying cry. “There was this quote staring me in the face, and that’s something that should be the quote of the year,” Shapiro

So the Yale Law Library’s associate director and lecturer revised his 2014 list, placing “I can’t breathe” in the top slot. His widely cited annual list, which is intended to capture the political and cultural mood of the country each year, serves as a supplement to “The Yale Book of Quotations,” originally published in 2006....

Shapiro relied on a gut sense that “I can’t breathe” wouldn’t be an ephemeral slogan, but rather a phrase with real and lasting impact. He said this was the first time he has made such a last-minute judgement on a quote, a choice he made within an hour.

Many factors contribute to making Garner’s words so powerful, Shapiro said. Garner uttered them while he was dying on a New York sidewalk. They were clearly captured on video.

Also, the image of Garner on the ground with police swarming around him sparked an outpouring of outrage across the country, among liberals and conservatives, whites and blacks alike."...

LYRICS: I CAN'T BREATHE [original lyrics]
(Luke Nephew of The Peace Poets)

"I still hear my brother crying ‘I can’t breathe’
Now I’m in the struggle and saying 'I can’t leave'
Calling out the violence of these racist police.
We ain’t gonna stop till people are free
We ain’t gonna stop till people are free"

LYRICS: I CAN'T BREATHE [folk processed lyrics, as popularized by actor Samuel L. Jackson]
I can hear my neighbor cryin -- "I can't breathe"
Caught up in the struggle sayin’ -- "I can't leave"
Callin out the violence of the racist police
And we ain't gonna stop -- til people are free!
We ain't gonna stop -- til people are free!
The Peace Poets' song "I Can't Breathe" is considered by some to be the anthem of the United States' police violence protest movement. This is due, in part, to that group's and others’ promotion of the "I Can't Breathe" song on Twitter, YouTube, and other internet based social media. Another big boost to publicizing this song is its promotion by actor Samuel L. Jackson and his "I Can't Breathe" challenge to celebrities and others to post a video of themselves singing that song, similar the way that people posted videos of themselves doing the ice bucket challenge (to publicize the disease ALS). Information about that song challenge is found below.

I think that the "I Can't Breathe" song "works", in part, because its words and its tune are easy to remember. The entire song has only five line, and the last line is a repeat of the fourth line. Furthermore, the "We ain't gonna stop till [our] people are free" lyrics are reminiscent of the focus on "freedom" in the 1960s civil rights songs, and the determined "We shall not be moved" stance of those protest songs.

Slight changes have already occurred in the way that "I Can't Breathe" is sung such changing the word "brother" to "neigbor", adding vocal flourishes, including an interjection such as "Listen" before the lyrics are repeated, and not clapping after the word "stop" as was done in the original video by The Peace Brothers. However, in the videos that I've watched to date the word "stop" is sung in a sharp/clipped manner, and/or the singers pause for a beat after that word before continuing that song.

Also, in Samuel L. Jackson's video and in other videos that I've watched to date of "I Can't Breathe" song, people don't clap their hands after the word "stop". In one video, Samuel L. Jackson referrred to the song "I Can't Breathe" as the 'We Ain't Gonna Stop till People are Free' song."

In my opinion, the folk processed change from "brother" to the word "neighbor" improves the song because "neighbor" is gender neutral.

The first two videos feature The Peace Poets. All of the other videos are presented in chronological order based on their posting dates with the oldest dated video given first.

Example #1: "I Can't Breathe" PROTEST SONG

The Peace Poets, Published on Dec 11, 2014

I still hear my brother crying -- "I can't breathe"
Now I'm in the struggle singing -- "I can't leave"
We calling out the violence of these racist police
And WE ain't gonna stop -- til our people are free!

Lift your voices, ORGANIZE and take ACTION for brother Eric and all lives lost to police murder and state sponsored violence.

"It is our duty to fight for our freedom. It is our duty to win. We must love each other and support each other. We have nothing to lose but our chains." - Assata Shakur
Selected comment from this video's viewer comment thread:
The Peace Poets, December 2014
"The song ["I Can't Breathe"] was written by Luke Nephew of our group for a direct action linked with #ThisStopsToday (a response to the non-indicment in the Eric Garner case) and was first used to block the entrance of the Manhattan Bridge with coffins while singing the song. Video can be seen above and original audio from that action can be found at the end of the video."
Here's information about The Peace Poets from their website!about-us
"The Peace Poets use music and poetry in our collective struggle for justice.

Through performances and workshops we open spaces for all people to embrace their role as leaders in the construction of more just communities."
The Peace Poets are based in New York City.

Example #2: Samuel L. Jackson to celebs: Sing 'I Can't Breathe'

USA TODAY Published on Dec 16, 2014

Actor Samuel L. Jackson is challenging his fellow celebrities and others to sing what's becoming the anthem of the anti-police brutality movement. People are joining the #icantbreathechallenge by sharing their own versions of the song.
Here's an excerpt of an article about Samuel L. Jackson's "I Can't Breathe" challenge to celebrities and others:
From Samuel L. Jackson challenges celebs: Sing 'I can't breathe' By Lisa Respers France, CNN, updated 8:20 AM EST, Mon December 15, 2014
"Samuel L. Jackson is calling on celebs who participated in the Ice Bucket Challenge to take part in another movement.

The actor recently posted a video on his personal Facebook page asking stars who got drenched to raise awareness for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, to raise their voices for another cause.

"All you celebrities out there who poured ice water on your head, I challenge you to do something else," Jackson said. "I challenge all of you to sing the 'We Ain't Gonna Stop till People are Free' song."

Jackson then proceeded to sing the lyrics: "I can hear my neighbor cryin' 'I can't breathe'/Now I'm in the struggle and I can't leave/Calling out the violence of the racist police/We ain't gonna stop 'til people are free/We ain't gonna stop 'til people are free."....

Example #3: "No Cash" Accepted Samuel L Jacksons Celebrity Challenge

No Cash, Published on Dec 17, 2014
Lyrics [transcribed from the video]
I can hear my neighbor cryin -- "I can't breathe"
Caught up in the struggle sayin’ -- "I can't leave"
Callin out the violence of the racist police
And we ain't gonna stop -- til people are free!
And we ain't gonna stop -- til people are free!

Listen, I can hear my neighbor crying -- "I can't breathe"
[Continue singing the words given above]
Hip Hop artist No Cash sings that song with the same tune and tempo as The Peace Poets & Samuel L. Jackson. But he makes the song his own by adding flourishes such as elongating the end word "free".

At the end of the song, No Cash says:
"Rest in peace all the falling soldiers, Michael Brown, Eric Garner. Samuel Jackson this is for you!

[No Cash is joined by other men who had been standing silently or appearing to talk to each other while No Cash sung that song]
No Cash says - Hands up!
Other men respond - Don't shoot!
Hands up!
(Don't shoot!)
Also, note that neither Samuel L. Jackson or No Cash clap their hands after singing the word "stop" as The Peace Poets did.

Click for a brief video of the "I Can't Breathe" song that was sung by Black Lives Matter marchers in Seattle, Washington (May 9, 2015).

Visit my civil rights song blog for lyrics, sound files, and videos of a number of 1960s civil rights songs (also known as "freedom songs").

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