Pussy Riot released a video for their new song “I Can’t Breathe” and it’s uncomfortable, but immensely effective. The lyrics and visuals are in memory of Eric Garner‘s death, which became the catalyst against American injustice. However Pussy Riot believes Garner’s death was a part of a larger discussion of the issue that is “state terror.” “State terror” from the Pussy Riot manifesto regards the action of anyone that was “killed, choked, [and] perished because of war and state sponsored violence of all kinds.” As we know, here in America, Garner’s death provoked fury and lost hope because he died by an illegal chokehold executed by policeman Daniel Pantaleo.
The music video is steady-paced, with no lip-synching as Pussy Riot are laying down deep in the ground and are being buried alive. Once fully covered, the camera spans away and Garner’s last words to Pantaleo are recited. His heartbreaking plea of “I can’t breathe” is spoken multiple times, just like Garner did as he fought for his last breath. Garner’s voice fades out and shovels are dropped on the ground. It’s a powerful clip.
Pussy Riot, a White female, 11-member Russian punk band is known to have had experiences with police brutality as it relates to Garner. They were dehumanized while behaving non-violently. We regularly associate police brutality as a nearly exclusive act towards Black and brown people, but Pussy Riot, who went from being the enfant terribles of their music scene to new icons of women’s and human rights, are utilizing Garner for an international purpose. Injustice by authority and the law aren’t just a Black obstacle or American, but even more provocative to consider, a worldly issue. Could this be true?
For the average American White woman, police and government maltreatment are typically kept in their nightmares, while for Pussy Riot, this is a reality. Already actively involved in the “Putin Must Go” protests against President Vladimir Putin (for his Totalitarianism management), in 2012 some of the Rioters held their own gathering outside of the Sochi seaport for a guerrilla performance piece.
Sochi was also the site of the Winter Olympics. Upon arrival, they were attacked by stalwart-in-the-face Cossacks militia who whipped and physically manhandled the women, as standard police did not interfere for ten minutes. Three of the Rioters Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Maria Alyokhina and Yekaterina Samutsevich were later charged with “hooliganism” and the arrests made headlines worldwide. Pussy Riot gained a bigger fanbase and intense media attention including American outlets, but the sudden limelight was bittersweet for they were jailed and would be so for two years.
Freed in 2014, Tolokonnikova and Alyokhina (who are now separate from the other nine members, but still perform under the band name of Pussy Riot) found their way to New York City to experience the #BLACKLIVESMATTERS and #ICANTBREATHE protests. During that visit, they wrote their first English-speaking single “I Can’t Breathe” and the line “It’s getting dark in New York City…” is subtly allegorical of what they literally witnessed and emotionally felt by the impassioned crowds for the many unarmed Black lives lost. Through their music, Tolokonnikova and Alyokhina have extended a kinship to the Eric Garner’s family and anyone else that has endured assault by authority. As they shared in an email to Buzzfeed, “We’ve known, on our own skin, what police brutality feels like and we can’t be silent on this issue.”
Since the protests last fall,”I Can’t Breathe” is a phrase we’ve all gotten used to hearing and it remains an adequate call to action and a vocalized alert of when “enough is enough.” Pussy Riot, in using the “I Can’t Breathe” movement also brought forth the abuse of women around the world. As stated, White American women are not as victimized and brutalized as women of color in America, but in other countries, women of all races are subjected as property and servants. John Lennon said, “Woman is the n*gger of the world.” Pussy Riot is a part of a group of many women and girls overseas, including Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai, speaking up for women’s rights, civil rights and artistic freedom in countries that would rather women “know their place.”
It’s always controversial for any group to compare their struggles to the plights of Black people. Pussy Riot succeeded in this case as they presented their larger message of police brutality and government negligence being not only a racial or gender issue, but instead as a global concern.
There’s also a second video for the single featuring clips of the New York City protests for Garner and his family:
What did you think of Pussy Riot’s new video?