In response to the murder of George Floyd as the result of a Minneapolis police officer kneeling on his neck, Jaylan Butler – the Eastern Illinois University swimmer who was pinned face down on the ground by officers kneeling on his back and his neck, while another pointed a gun at his forehead – today issued the following statement: 

“When I saw the video of Mr. Floyd’s death, it snapped me back to my experience being handcuffed face down on the snowy ground, with a knee on my neck and a gun to my head. I know how fortunate I am that my life did not end on the cold ground alongside a highway in Illinois. I am lucky. But I am also afraid and spiritually broken from what happened to me, and from having to relive it over and over as these incidents recur.

Mr. Floyd’s family is suffering the pain that generations of people who look like us have experienced. Too many have died at the hands of police who used brutal chokeholds and unnecessary force on Black men and women that were not used on others. Tragedies do not require firing a gun. Choking someone while they are handcuffed on the ground can bring the same pain and the same result – a family losing the one they love. 

I am thankful that my family is not feeling that pain today, but for those of us fortunate to survive police encounters, we still carry the fear and powerlessness instilled in us by those officers. Watching the last moments of Mr. Floyd’s life evokes difficult memories, and I am grateful to have my family and a support system and outlet to help me navigate through them.

I see some people find this discussion uncomfortable. Others do not understand the anger and frustration of the protesters – the people who are fed up with being targeted simply for looking like me and my family. But our country has to talk about these issues. No one else should have to feel this way, and so justice must be served.

We need to ban the use of chokeholds and other dangerous tactics that restrict a person’s breathing. When in handcuffs and facedown it is hard to maneuver and get up. Put yourself in my shoes and lie face down on the ground, grab your wrists, and try to get up. It is undeniably difficult. The situation is already controlled – there is no need for more force.

We must honor the lives of George Floyd and others by demanding accountability, fixing these problems, and showing that Black lives truly matter.”